For the past several months, elderly Korean people have been occupying the tables of a McDonald’s in Queens, NY, oftentimes coming in as early as 5 a.m. and leaving in the evening. This has been causing some issues for the management, as customers have been complaining and asking for refunds for lack of seating. McDonald’s kindly asks their patrons to finish eating their food in 20 minutes, so that other patrons have a place to sit to enjoy their meals, but this has not stopped this group of Korean seniors from camping. After several months, the management got the authorities involved and had policemen escort them out of the McDonald’s. Now, Korean community leaders are fighting back in what they have perceived as rudeness and “stark racism”, as the leader of the Korean Parents Association of New York, Christine Colligan wrote in a letter to McDonald’s. Read the NY Times article here.
As a Korean-American, this incident makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because I think the Koreans are wrong. Sorry, Grandfather, Grandmother, Elder, Deaconess, but aren’t you the ones guilty of being rude? Aren’t you the ones that are overstaying your welcome in a fast food restaurant, and then once met with authority, galvanizing the Korean community about some non-issue? Even as I type this, my Confucian upbringing is screaming at me. I’m imagining the amount of hate I will get by some in the Asian community, probably thinking that my parents didn’t raise me correctly (to respect my elders, or some derivative of that sentiment). Well, a couple of points about the incident.
First of all, the claim that Colligan makes, that this is “stark racism” is unnecessarily inflammatory and simply wrong. What evidence is there of “stark racism”? It’s plain to me that this was caused by the actions of the Korean seniors, rather than targeting the elders for being Korean. It doesn’t matter what race you are, the behavior exhibited by those Korean elders would not have been tolerated. The NY Times article goes on to state that Colligan’s “global” call to boycott McDonald’s was based on the notion to “teach them a lesson”. So basically, she’s calling all 1.7 million Korean Americans and the 50 million+ Koreans in South Korea to boycott McDonald’s because she feels that McDonald’s is disrespecting Korean seniors who feel entitled to stay for hours because they ordered a coffee for $1.09? How petty. Frankly, this is embarrassing.
At first, McDonald’s calling the police seems a bit excessive, but if I understood correctly, the actions of the seniors was tolerated for months before the authorities being called to resolve the non-compliance. Furthermore, it seems that this doesn’t even work. The seniors themselves admit to leaving, then walking around the block, and then returning for a seat. So NYPD comes around as often as 3 times a day to resolve this. What a complete waste of resources. The police have better things to do than to tell seniors to move from a McDonald’s.
It should also be noted that there are other places that the seniors could congregate. An earlier NY Times noted:
“Yet there seem to be no shortage of facilities that cater to the elderly in the neighborhood. Civic centers dot the blocks, featuring parlors for baduk (an Asian board game), and classes in subjects from calisthenics to English. Mr. Lee, who comes to the McDonald’s from Bayside, passes several senior centers en route. One is a Korean Community Service center in Flushing, which recently changed a room in the basement into a cafe with 25-cent coffee after its president, Kwang S. Kim, got word of the McDonald’s standoff.
No one has come.”
To me, it seems like this group of elderly Korean men and women have the cultural expectations that come with being an elderly Korean man or women. Utmost respect. Immunity to error. Compliance from those younger than them. Except that this time, they expect this from an establishment as synonymous with America as Ford, Apple, Google, or Microsoft. This is the difficult part because for as much as America is a nation of many peoples, not one of those peoples should disruptively insert their personal cultural expectations into our businesses. These Koreans were breaking an unspoken social rule, and should quickly dissolve the attention that they are receiving from the media by moving their gathering to another location. It is starting to reflect poorly on the Korean community.