I thought that I'd seen a lot . . . (and don't read this if you've got a weak stomach)
Spitting is common is some cultures. Indeed, it's hardly unknown in the West -- if old laws still on the books are any indication. For example, in Salinas, California:
"Sec. 30-4. Spitting on sidewalk prohibited.* No person shall spit on any sidewalk. (Ord. No. 22 (NS), § 11.)"
Or in South Haven, Michigan:
"Sec. 54-4. Spitting in public. No person shall spit on any sidewalk or on the floor or seat of any public carrier, or on any floor, wall, seat or equipment of any place of public assemblage. (Ord. No. 779, Sec. 1(42.01(c)(22)), 3-11-93)"
These sorts of law are sometimes ridiculed as "Crazy Codes," but according to one informative website on "Tobacco control policy," under the heading "The case of the disappearing spittoon," spittoons were common in the United States in the 19th century until:
"As medical opinion evolved about the transmissibility of disease through spitting, and as people's living standards and social habits changed, it became socially unacceptable, and more than that, was outlawed in public places. 'No spitting' signs were erected, and in time spitting so declined that the signs and spittoons were no longer needed: non-spitting had been established as the norm."
But spittoons held out in some regions. I recall still seeing them in the Arkansas Ozarks even up to my teenage years, though they were usually intended for use by people who chewed tobacco. In barber shops, especially (because women didn't enter those places), you could find some excellent spitters -- men who'd have the skill for a sure shot from ten feet away.
Spitting contests of that kind, incidentally, might explain something that had long puzzled me. One of my uncles tells the anecdote of his induction into the military during WWII. He and others from the Ozarks were sent to Little Rock before heading on to boot camp. First, the new draftees had to get medical exams to test their fitness. They were told to strip down to their birthday suits and stand near the back wall of the room. A sergeant came in with a bottle, held it up for all to see, and began to explain what the men had to do:
"Men!" he barked, "I want you to piss in this bottle."
To which, in utter seriousness, one of the men from my hometown responded:
"From back here?"
Now, maybe this hometown hillbilly of mine was skilled at hitting spittoons, or perhaps he had even been in a few pissing contests, but he was absolutely sincere in his question -- my uncle swears to it!
Anyway, as for spittoons themselves, I'm sure that some spitters used them for fluids other than tobacco-enhanced saliva, but most Americans are generally unaware that the habit of public spitting has only relatively recently disappeared. If we Americans just knew a little more about our own relatively recent 'nasty' habits, we might be more understanding of the spitting that we see in Korea.
But then there are guys like the one my wife and I saw yesterday. We had just exited the Bonghwasan Subway Station with our children in tow and were waiting for the bus home when I happened to notice a man seated on a nearby bench. Beside him on the bench was a lovely, copper-colored dog that resembled an Irish Setter, only smaller.
Turning to my children, I said, "There's a dog!"
Now, my kids love dogs, even more so because we can't have one ("A cat indoors, fine, but a dog -- no way!"). I also like dogs and always point them out so that my children can see them -- and perhaps pet them if the owners allow and the dogs endure.
My wife stopped them in their tracks: "No, the man is strange!"
Cautioned now, I began to watch him out of the corner of my eye but didn't immediately spot anything odd.
My wife whispered to me, "Watch how he pets the dog."
Surreptitiously, I looked for the man's hand. Half hidden in the dog's fur, it was fondling the dog.
Stunned, I looked directly at the couple. The guy was definitely fondling his dog's private parts. Now, I guess that you could call this "heavy petting," but I've never seen anyone attempt this sort of thing under any circumstances, let along so openly. Yet, the man seemed perfectly comfortable to be doing it in public.
The dog looked a bit embarassed. Seriously. The dog seemed actually uncomfortable with the attention. Was it experiencing . . . sexual harassment?
As I was posing this question and wondering about laws concerning such things, the man stopped fondling for a moment, reached into a greasy, brown paper bag that he had in his lap, drew out something that looked like a slice of chicken or pork, and fed it to his dog.
The dog even licked the man's hand, which soon thereafter returned to fondling the dog. A few moments later, the man again withdrew his hand, raised his fingers to his nose ("Now what?" I wondered), and proceeded -- without tissue -- to blow it clean in a loud and eminently successful manner. That, I couldn't watch, but the sound revealed all.
I looked at my wife, who was grimacing in disgust. I glanced back at the man, who had now taken another piece of chicken or pork from the greasy brown bag and was busy stuffing it into his own mouth -- with the same hand that had previously been in contact with a dog's genitals and saliva and then with his own mucus!
"Good Lord!" I murmered. "There really ought to be a law."
But I'll say this for the fellow: He didn't spit.