Crisis in South Korea: Feisty Old People Who Want Subway Seats

As though increased tensions with North Korea weren't enough, South Korea has found itself dealing with a crisis within its own borders: Embittered old people, demanding seats on the subway!

Unlike Americans, who ship old people off to retirement homes, or the U.S. Senate, South Koreans treat their elders quite well. Or at least, they used to. Blogger Lee Yoo Eun reports on a generational war brewing in South Korea over that most precious of resources: Subway seating.

Complaints on elderly people aggressiveness in occupying the Noyak seat [a seat reserved for the handicapped, elderly, and pregnant] have been reported over local media and online blogs. Senior people have shoved exhausted students and commuting twenties and thirties and young pregnant women off the seat. Not a few elderly people have literally kicked and pushed away young people from the seat with their canes. Hurling abusive comments at younger generation and embarrassing them into leaving the seat are common in subway, some even cursing young people's moms for not teaching them the courtesy and respect to the elders. These clashes, if young choose to fire back, often turns into a screaming match, a physical hassle or even serious injuries and lawsuits which local media makes a news.

Eun writes that the tension may derive from the gap in opportunity and privilege between older South Koreans, who lived through the Korean war and the "radical societal shifts" it entailed, and their children and grandchildren, who were born into a prosperous society that promised subway seating for all. Worse, the elderly are given free subway tickets, and, according to Eun, ride the train all the way to the last stop (because, I guess, what else do you do when you're old).

In the U.S., meanwhile, we barely even have subways to deny seating to the elderly on. But when we see old people standing on the subway while we sit, you better believe that we're respectful enough to avoid eye contact, and hope that someone else gives up their seat. Shirking responsibility: It's the American way.

[Global Voices]