Don’t talk in English on the KTX train…

The KTX was a wonderful addition to South Korea. in 2004. You can now travel in less than 3 hours from the largest city (Seoul) to the 2nd largest one (Busan) in less than 3 hours. Before it took a minimum of 5 hours and on bad traffic days, it could take up a 1/2 a day and there have been times where people have reportedly sat on the roads all day long despite leaving at like 6a in the morning.

However, this past weekend, I’ve had my most unpleasurable experience on the train. I’ve taken it at least a hundred times in the past year +. Most of the times, I’m alone & so I’m sitting there very silently. On Friday, I traveled with 3 of my coworkers who are 3 of the most mild mannered foreigners that I have ever met. They’re wonderful people. We started talking from Seoul on the way to Busan about work issues and all sorts of casual conversation topics. Gregg and I talked the most since we were next to each other, but Gregg is the most mellow mannered talker you would ever meet. I, on the other hand, can be a little louder at times because I get very wrapped up into what I say. However, after getting warned by one older gentleman behind my 2 other coworkers, I realized I may have been speaking a little loud. So, I reduced it a bit & kept a strong effort to just be quiet & talk to Gregg in a very quiet way. To be frank, I was bushed & wanted to sleep, but I also wanted to answer anything Gregg wanted to know. He’s a great guy to talk to…

So, we kept on talking.  Thirty minutes later, the guy directly behind us started to yell at us that he’s trying to sleep and that we should quiet down.  I was shocked.  Gregg was floored.  We both were quietly talking and making no fuss at all, but this time, we didn’t just quiet down…we fought back!  I argued back in Korean that “What’s the big deal?  Is it illegal to speak on the train?”  He retorted that it’s “not your personal space to talk.”  I responded, “Is this your private space on the train to have pure silence?”  Gregg stepped in and even asked, “Is this the library?”  We were literally fuming at this guy.  The sad thing is that the guy next to him decided to get into the argument and started yelling, “What country are you from?  You don’t respect our rules!”  The funny thing was he started to ask if I was Chinese or Japanese.  Our other coworker Dina started to point to them and just say “quiet down.”  It really wasn’t worth making a big deal over.

The annoying men got off at Daegu before us.  Dina then asked the ladies in front if we were bothering them?  The ladies responded that they didn’t understand why the men couldn’t respect our right to talk on the train.  They said they were embarrassed at people like them and those were the type of people that made Korean weak at times.  We laughed, but….then another lady started shouting she agreed with the men before and couldn’t sleep because we were talking.  She started to get louder and then I just tore into her, “Lady, would you quiet down?!”

She laughed, but kept on going…

Another step forward in making this a great “English speaking country….”  Anyway, I’m not giving up.  Unfortunately, there’s ignorant people…and our job as “better people” is to ignore the ignorant…or teach their children at least.  😉


Filed under Korea life, Stupid, Unfortunate

10 responses to “Don’t talk in English on the KTX train…

  1. TK

    Nice work B. You’ll have the whole country wrapped around an axle before you leave…if you ever leave.

  2. boom

    Interesting, whose idea is it to make Korea “a great english speaking nation”? It seems those guys were concerned about noise, not the sound of english. There is little evidence to say that one should not speak english on that train since you encountered a very small number of people, more than half of whom expressed their dissatisfaction with the your conduct. Anyway, you admited that you can be loud, you have you ever noticed the noises that prevent you from sleeping, its not the continuous din of polite conversation.

  3. clizia

    It’s not about “talking English on KTX”, it’s about you, as you have admitted, you can be loud. Anybody can talk inside KTX but maybe you got the Koreans disturbed by non-stop talking (loudly at some point). One thing you forgot (or you lack???)- SOCIAL ETIQUETTE.

  4. I love it when people comment neglecting to read parts of the post or article they’re reading. Thank you for pointing out the obvious, but please also read between the lines when I mention that I reduced my voice SIGNIFICANTLY and 3 of us who all witnessed the situation thought it was INCREDIBLY abusive in the way they reacted to us. Nevertheless, you would have to be there to believe it…at the same time, I actually appreciate you supporting the Korean people — my brethren, but when they act abusive … it has to be pointed out.

  5. John

    I can totally relate to your experience as it has happened to me, traveling from Mokpo to Seoul. I was talking, almost in whisper mode on my mobile, for about 1 minute to a friend to confirm my arrival time, when a korean man walked up to me and told me to “shut up, your talking too loud”. I could not believe this just happened, as minutes before there were two old korean men yelling on their mobiles and nothing was said, and I was bothered by their extreme loudness. So I chalk this experience up as arrogant Koreans, just as their are arrogant people in any country. But really, buses, trains, planes, Koreans just hate to listen to English, it hurts their ears as one of my co-teachers explained. Next time I will surely not be so polite back!

  6. Adam

    I know this is an old post, but just so you know, in Korean Culture, speaking on any form of public transit is frowned upon. It isn’t that you encountered particularly mean or arrogant people, but rather you encountered people who are more of the old school when it comes to Korean Culture.

  7. Adam

    …and that applies to any language you may be speaking.

  8. Interesting given they were talking in Korean louder than we were. No problems there, but when it’s not their language, it’s annoying.

    We were REALLY quiet. I’m extra sensitive about talking because I know this cultural phenomena…anyhoo, they’ll be them and I’ll be me. And I have all the right in the world to fight back as much as they have in complaining about.

    If they start complaining though, they’d be ready for one big fight! ^^

  9. Miguk Ajummah

    They were just jealous cuz your English was way better than theirs

  10. ray

    Well done not making a big deal over it by arguing back at the man behind you. Also I don’t see what any of this has to do with you speaking in English.

    I’m sure the guy was overreacting but you didn’t seem to have handled it very well, and took it way to personally. The guy is just an ass, leave it at that. You don’t need to make a post about it generalizing about the whole of KTX and your comment at the end about Korea.

    I know that this post was made a few years ago, maybe you have calmed down and matured a bit since then.

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