Cultural Norms

A few weeks back, Erin and I were hanging out in Gangnam when we spied a scene that left me thunderstruck. It started pretty normal. A young boy of perhaps three or four was walking to a nearby mall with his father. The boy stopped to complain about something. Then things took a turn. The father, looking resigned and more than a little bored, knelt in front of his son and helped him pull his pants down to his ankles, so his tiny butt was exposed in all its glory to the Korean afternoon. The father pulled the lid off his (hopefully empty) soda cup. He then held said cup in a strategic location.

And his son began to wizzle. Into the cup. Which his dad was holding. In the crowded mall courtyard.

They were not off to one side. They were not hidden in a corner. They were front and center, surrounded by shoppers... a little boy peeing into a cup ten feet from an upscale mall in downtown Seoul.

After I picked up my jaw, I took a quick look around and realized that no one else had reacted in any way to this urinary drama. I can't even begin to guess what this says about Korean society. On the one hand, these people are seriously repressed about a lot of thingsOn the other hand, I was a prudish American, unprepared to see a four year old drop trou in public and empty his bladder into a cup.

I turned to Erin, who was watching the scene with raised eyebrows.

"Can you believe that?" I asked.

She waved a hand. "That's nothing."

"I... but... excuse me?" I sputtered.

"I was visiting a family's house once, and... you know those plastic Halloween jack-o'Ianterns? For trick or treating?"

I nodded.

"Well the family's little boy had to pee. So his grandmother grabbed their jack-o'lantern and held it up for him. We were ten feet from the bathroom, but apparently it was pumpkin or nothing."

"You are kidding! Why didn't you tell me about this?"

She shrugged. "I forgot."

"You forgot." I stared at her. "How can you forget seeing a kid pee in a jack o'lantern?"

"Well, I mean, it was in the middle of a conversation, and it was after a really busy day, and I had a lot of other stuff happen that totally screwed up my schedule and I just... by the time I got home, I forgot."

"Hold on. You were conversing with this grandmother? While she held the pumpkin?" I asked.

She nodded. "I guess it was pretty weird."

I stared at her for a moment. Then I looked around the crowded square, at the hundreds of passing strangers ignoring the tiny young man hauling his pants back into place.

Then I sighed. "Erin? I think you've maybe been in Korea too long."

She snorted. "Yeah. I think maybe you're right."


PS. Apparently, I'm not the only one who's noticed this behavior. Check out the second story on this post from Kitchenette!