While generations past prized courtesy and chivalry as part of a rigid system of social manners, the relaxation of these rules and the comparative equality in genders has created a generation with an entirely different, and much more fluid, moral and social code. Four students at Saint Paul American School (SPAS) gave us the lowdown on how the younger generation perceives old notions of chivalry, and what their modern set of values is.
Do you think there is a difference between chivalry and courtesy?
Ondrej: I think courtesy is part of chivalry, but being courteous is being nice, being polite, and it’s something that should be included in chivalry.
Sally: I think chivalry that includes courtesy embraces the whole meaning. Chivalry basically applies to people who are thinking of others first.
Do you think that men opening doors for women and the notion of “ladies first” is modern?
John: In the US, even with lots of mean guys, they’ll still respect it. Everyone I know will, but I also know some people that don’t even know about that type of chivalry. Their parents probably didn’t teach them and they don’t have manners.
Sally: In Korea, men say, “Ladies first? That’s an old idea we don’t do anymore.”
Tina: It depends on the place that you live in.
Do you also think “ladies first” is outdated?
John: I think guys should still follow it. For me, it was a family rule since I was little. My dad would be very mad if I didn’t let ladies go first. I think it’s more of an older tradition that lots of parents still teach their kids.
Sally: I think it goes along with the [gender]equality issue, which says women have the same rights as men and they are as strong as men. But the idea of ladies first [revolves on the idea that]we are physically weaker than men, and that sort of thing doesn’t go along with women’s equality. So if women are equal these days, why would we still have “ladies first”?
Ondrej: I think showing courtesy or chivalry is a reflection of your social status. If you are courteous, you are educated. But “ladies first” shouldn’t always apply; I think when a man is with a woman and they go to an unknown place, the man should go first in order to protect the woman.
Tina: In my country, we have equal rights; we don’t really talk about this stuff. Those who think we should have “ladies first” are more traditional.
Should this go the other way? Should women open doors for men?
Sally: I don’t think there should be a rule about who goes first, it’s just how people respect each other. If you say a man should go first or a woman should go first, it makes a hierarchy and it doesn’t apply to what we perceive as equality. Who goes first depends on the situation.
John: It should just be something guys follow: opening the door for a lady. I don’t think it should be the other way around; I feel like it would just be a little awkward.
Tina: I disagree, because in modern times, boys and girls are equal. Everyone should be polite to each other, not only boys to girls.
What are the differences or similarities in chivalry and courtesy in China and in your home country?
Sally: In traditional Korea, men were in a much higher position than women, so there wasn’t any [notion of]of “ladies first.” It was thought that men were stronger than women, and women should follow men. But Korea has since changed and Koreans believe that women and men are kind of equal now.
Tina: In my previous class, I had a lot of boys and girls talking only to members of their gender. They didn’t talk much to the opposite gender, because their conversations didn’t really match.
Odrej: I think it happens everywhere, because men have similar thinking, and then there’s the thinking of women. But as you grow older, you begin to be friends with everyone. Like in this school, we are friends with everyone.
John: In the US, the man respecting the woman is very important, but for example, Koreans bow to their elders. I was shocked how respectful they were to their elders. The US definitely does not have that.
What does your generation value now in terms of courtesy or chivalry?
Odrej: Respect for other people. Although you don’t have to agree with them, you should respect their opinion or way of life. If you want you can try to influence them, but not force them to do anything. That’s not a good way to change things. And also tolerance.
Sally: I think Koreans still value courtesy and being respectful to different genders or to the elderly, but I think they are more open. Koreans have more freedom and equality than they did before.
Tina: Being more open, and it’s not as strict as before. Having manners and respecting everyone around you.
John: I notice my dad’s and my grandpa’s eras weren’t very open to other cultures. Nowadays, if we see people of different cultures walking by and the different way they greet each other, they’ll have the weirdest expression on their faces, like, “Why are they doing that?” But now all the younger generations are very open, and [in the same situation]will think “Wow, that’s cool.”
How can people be open?
Tina: Express your ideas to others and being nice. You can speak out more to others.
Sally: More communication, more talking. In my grandpa’s era, people didn’t talk, there was traditional respect and things were so strict that they thought it wasn’t polite to talk with each other; it was better to just think what you think and persevere. But now there’s more communication. We try to work out the differences between genders.
Ondrej: Respect, up to a point. If someone abuses your respect, then there is no point in respecting that person anymore. I would say, understanding – trying to understand different cultures.
John: When I first got here with another American, we thought Koreans would hang with Koreans, Chinese would hang with Chinese, and we thought, that would be so boring. The next few weeks it was [cliquey], and he and I were so alone. So we went around making friends, and we noticed that after we started to ask them about where they were from, they became our friends and became much more open, and everyone mixed together after a while.
Photo by Sui