Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fast Food, Slow People

Fasting  Slowly
Photo by Chang W. Lee
The New York Times

A couple of days ago, one of my colleagues -- another Southerner, Brian -- gave me a head's up on this article by Sarah Maslin Nir and Jiha Ham, "Fighting a McDonald's in Queens for the Right to Sit. And Sit. And Sit" (The New York Times, January 14, 2014)
Mr. Lee said . . . he and his friends -- a revolving group who shuffle into the McDonald's [in Flushing, Queens, NYC] on the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards on walkers, or with canes, in wheelchairs or with infirm steps, as early as 5 a.m. and often linger until well after dark -- had, as they seem to do every day, long overstayed their welcome.
These are old Korean men, doing what they also do in Korea, or as old men back in my Ozark hometown do, and likely as old men everywhere in the world do, except that these Korean men must be the world champions at hanging out for hours and hours to chew the fat and while away their little time left on earth because these old Koreans are in fast-paced New York City sitting at a fast food joint that allows just twenty short minutes for customers to occupy a table. MacDonald's has tried calling the police:
"They ordered us out," Mr. Lee said from his seat in the same McDonald's booth a week after the incident, beneath a sign that said customers have 20 minutes to finish their food. (He had already been there two hours.) "So I left," he said.

"Then I walked around the block and came right back again."

For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald's they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.

"Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?" David Choi, 77, said. "No, it's impossible."
Wrong! It's entirely possible. And not only possible! It's inevitable! Unless you're using the natural laws of evaporation to drink that coffee through your nose! And these old guys do seem to have made a science of it! More importantly, I see in these old Korean men the same sort of disrespect for the police in NYC as I see they have here in Seoul.
Workers at the restaurant say they are exasperated.

"It's a McDonald's," said Martha Anderson, the general manager, "not a senior center." She said she called the police after the group refused to budge and other customers asked for refunds because there was nowhere to sit . . . . The police in the 109th Precinct, which serves the area, say that calls to resolve disputes at businesses are routine, though the disruptions are more often caused by unruly teenagers than by septuagenarians.
So . . . why are they there? Inquiring minds want to know:
Outside the McDonald's on Saturday, Sang Yong Park, 76, and his friend, Il Ho Park, 76, tried to explain what drew them there. They come every single day to gossip, chat about politics back home and in their adopted land, hauling themselves up from the banquettes with their canes to step outside for short cigarillo breaks. And they could not say why they keep coming back -- after a short walk around the block to blow off steam -- every time the officers remove them.
Of course, they don't know. It's a habit, not a reflective choice. And they're stubborn old Korean men who KNOW they're right no matter what the law says. They can't be ordered away by a forty-year-old police officer half their age! What does that young whippersnapper know?

Welcome to New York City! Welcome to Seoul, Korea!

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At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Yule said...

This shows a lack of empathy for the other customers. There is no other way to spin it.

How many people, over the time they've been doing this, have been unable to get a [good] seat at that McDonald's? Their actions negatively affect their fellow man and they don't care. Then again, they don't "know" those other faceless people, so it's a non-issue to them. Just like shoving on the subway and spitting all over the sidewalks and lots of other small examples.

I think this lack of empathy for strangers is not limited to Korea but is across all East Asia, in my experience. They wouldn't view it in the negative terms I'm presenting it.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Yule said...

I've noticed that in present-day South Korean coffee shop culture, it's perfectly fine to stay for as long as you want, even all day, if you buy a cup of 3,000-won coffee. Same thing in the saunas (I've heard); pay the fee and stay one hour or several days, whatever you want. These businesses accommodate Korean culture rather than fight it. But they are *in* Korea, not the USA. I wonder if a "Koreatown" McDonald's would have a time-limit policy?

The good buffet restaurants have explicit time-limits these days.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think Confucianism emphasizes friends, family, and hierarchy but offers little to guide people in relations with strangers.

That might account for what you've noticed about East Asia.

Jeffery Hodges

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