Hello, my name is Chang-Su and I have worked with 5/5 since 2008
What is more upsetting for each of us than to find that our goodwill, instead of being seen as such, is the basis for dysfunctional communication, from misunderstandings of varying degrees of severity to total incomprehension? However this happens and it is even an everyday occurrence between people of different cultures. Here are two examples from my own experience.
Daughter: Are you going to say thank you then, Papa?
Father: Oh! What for?
Daughter: Didn’t Mummy give you some water?
Father: We don’t say thank you to Mummy.
Daughter: That’s not true! Eomma, eomma, Hélène seonsaengnimi “thank you” haeyadoendago gulaesseo (Mummy, mummy, my teacher Hélène says you have to say thank you.”)
Her smiling mother replied, Gomapdag haeyo! (“Say thank you, go on!”) It was in this way that one day at the table my daughter gave me a lesson in morality. Born to Korean parents in France, she was four and had been going to nursery school for two years when this incident took place. Still at the table the following exchange took place between her and her mother.
Daughter: Eomma goki! (“Mummy, meat!”)
Mother: Juseyo! (“Give [me some meat]!”)
Daughter: Eomma, goki juseyo! (“Mummy, give [me some meat!]”)
Mother: (passing her a piece) Ja! (“Here!”)
Daughter: Neomu keo, jjallajweo! (“It’s too big. Cut it!”)
Mother: Juseyo! (“Give [it to me after cutting it]!”)
Daughter: Jjallajuseyo! (“Cut it”)
(The words in square brackets in the translation are added to help you to understand.)
Hiccups of this type lead us to ask ourselves about many underlying cultural presuppositions in the way we speak, presuppositions up till then unsuspected as they appear obvious or natural to us. In Korea, as in France, saying thank you is one of the important rituals that the child is invited to adopt in the first stages of socialisation. So, for a service, a favour or a present that has been received, this is routinely expected except, and this is where the two cultures differ, when there is a strong sense of solidarity, as between family members or very good friends. As it happens, the sense of solidarity is such that thank you is considered less a gesture of recognition and more the act of distancing oneself. This is doubly true. On the one hand each person considers it normal to help each other if need be and considers the other to be an extension of himself so saying thank you is thanking himself in a way. On the other hand, recognition is considered to be a sentiment to be kept internally and not expressed verbally as saying thank you is an easy, cheap way of settling a debt in the field of this precious sentiment. Example 2 reveals the hierarchical, united ethos of Korean culture. As the request is by its nature even an upsetting act (having something done by another for the profit of the person stating it), each culture or language has a class of linguistic tools to soften the unpleasant nature of this upsetting act. However, what is felt to be most upsetting varies from one culture to another. In Korea, in the family setting or especially between good friends, the consideration of psychological distance (driven by indirect formulations that are often interrogatory or unconditional) comes out less well than consideration of hierarchical distance, because it ruins the sense of solidarity.