Have you ever heard of the term ‘Ugly Korean?’ This is a coined word that emerged after the liberalization of travelling abroad in 1989. It refers to some Korean tourists who violate propriety in other countries. The standards of culture in Korea has risen but according to a 2012 American study, Korean tourists ranked as sixth worst. Though the term was formed more than twenty years ago, Ugly Korean still exists and the controversy continues to this day.
Last April, a photo of graffiti in the Florence Cathedral became a hot issue on the Internet. Even though there was a notice posted saying, “Do not write on the walls,” there was graffiti in the Korean language. The message of the graffiti was, ‘she grew well as her mother wished.’ The etiquette that was disregarded by this graffiti bred resentment among internet users. In a Thai national park, coral in the ocean was damaged by Korean language graffiti. Also, Ugly Korean includes acts of screaming and singing at accommodations such as guesthouses and picture taking where it is prohibited. There are many cases where Koreans do not respect the propriety like this. In addition, they are taking advantage of their power such as talking down to employees and treating employees like a servant. This has resulted in many restaurants and bars in foreign countries to prohibit entry for Koreans.
Meanwhile, there are many cases where people inadvertently become Ugly Korean because they don’t know the culture and etiquette of the country they are visiting. For example, Americans rarely touch a worker’s body or turn off a worker’s water when he talks to other customers. It is good manners to say “Excuse me,” when you call out to an employee or stranger. However, we make mistakes because we are not familiar with that culture. Also, a gesture that we frequently use is a little misleading in other countries. The raised thumb and pinky finger means “promise” in Korea but in China it is used to ignore people. Giving a thumbs-up sign means “best” in our country but in Australia it means “rejection” or “rude.” Therefore, it is important for you to look into a culture of the country before you go on a trip.
The number of people going overseas is increasing every year and our global positioning has grown compared to the old days. To be in the position which we are in and to have the stigma of Ugly Korean is embarrassing and poor for our country’s image. What mindset should you have in order to not to be an Ugly Korean? First, you should act as though your mission is to represent our country well. As the saying goes "When in Rome, do as Romans do". This means you had better know and follow the rules of country where you go. Also, you should treat natives and other tourists with consideration and restrain from actions which might harm or annoy others such as making loud noises.
The economical and cultural level of Korea has increased however, considering the prevalence of the Ugly Korean, our level of consciousness is low. It is good to leave with delightful memories from your trip, but do not leave bad memories for others. If we act with basic respect and manners, we will not hear about the stigma of Ugly Koreans anymore.