Yes, this is about Korea making a big fuzz over fire drills. In the Western World, we just assume that you are a grown ass adult and that one fire safety drill is enough to inform you about the who whats wheres and whens in the case of a fire. Korea is all about the show. Your word is not enough, you need to prove that you will not die when a fire breaks out. And how do we prove this? Easy- we stage a fake fire, we set up a podium and Gazebo. We have an emergency crew waiting and we choose one of the staff members to be the injured and trapped the victim. AND obviously, we invite the local newspaper…
How are fire drills different from back home? Well, for one, they are not secret. In Korea, fire drills get scheduled. Every man, women, and child is aware of the fire drill and are expected to behave exactly according to the instructions. When the alarm goes off (which everybody sits around and wait for), everybody gets up and leave the building in a nice and orderly manner. There’s no shouting, no panic, and absolutely no rush.
What is the purpose of this, you might wonder? Is is not more important to schedule an unscheduled fire drill and to test whether staff members actually know what to do in the case of a fire? Nope – it is not. It is important to show the director of the school that we can do everything perfectly, hence the constant rehearsal and putting up a show. In Korea, saving face is considered extremely important. You can lie about knowing something, and it will be considered OK as long as you don’t embarrass yourself, your coworkers and most importantly your boss by telling the truth or being upfront.
Fire drills are just one of the weird things that are done backward in Korea in order to keep up appearances. It does not mean that Koreans don’t know how to act in a fire, on the contrary, I think they do it way better than South Africans. I just think that most of the time Koreans follow Western practices, like fire drills, without understanding the real purpose behind it which turns it into a laughable charade with no meaning.
As a foreigner in a foreign country, I believe that it’s not my place to educate or correct the practices of this country- however misguided or skew it might be. That being said, I am allowed to sometimes blow off some steam and do a little reality check in order to keep my Western authenticity, because that is what I’m getting paid for.