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Vol.2 Winter 2008 (Page 52-53)
< Nonfiction >
  EBS Documentary: The East and the West
by Pyo Jeonghun

You Say Tomato...

EBS Documentary: The East and the West EBS The East and the West production team & Kim Myungjin, Wisdomhouse Publishing Co., Ltd., 2008, 240p ISBN 978-89-5913-322-2 03300

A popular, controversial Korean documentary has been published as a book.
The book examines the differences between Eastern and Western cultures through experiments and surveys conducted on over 200 participants.

This book contains materials from an EBS (a Korean TV station) documentary series of the same title. The producers of the series travelled around various countries including Korea, the United States, Canada, and Japan, interviewing 20 experts, and conducting surveys and tests on over 200 individuals from these countries. A great deal of their material was contributed by the East-West Comparative Culture and Psychology researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and Stanford University. The documentary series gained popularity among viewers, and is now available at local bookstores.




According to this book, even when offering someone more tea, Westerners and Easterners take different approaches.
In the East, one asks a verb-centered question, “drink more?” while in the West, one says, “more tea?” – a noun-centered question. The verb “to drink” describes the relationship between the tea and the person. In the East, people tend to use a great deal of verb-centered expressions because thoughts are built around the relationship between things. On the other hand, Westerners believe that “person” and “tea” are individual entities, and therefore express the question using the noun.
When shown a picture of a screaming man and asked why the man is screaming, Easterners and Westerners answer differently. First, the Easterner says, “The atmosphere is eerie. It looks like the two people behind him have done something to him.” The Westerner says, “The person is in a state of panic. He’s feeling fear deep inside him. He seems mentally unstable.” Easterners tended to relate the state of the person to the surrounding atmosphere and situation whereas the Westerners tended to find explanations in the person’s emotional and psychological state. In other words, Easterners look at the environment and context for clues that lead to a person’s emotional state, while Westerners search inside the person for answers.
The experiment on Western individualism and Eastern group mentality shows interesting results. Subjects from the East and West were given five pens – one white and four blue – to choose from. Easterners had a tendency to choose blue while Westerners tended to choose white. In the second round of pen experiments, the subjects were once again given five pens – one blue and four white – to choose from. The Easterners generally chose white while the Westerners chose blue. The experiment spoke to the Westerners’ general desire to be distinct from others, and to make a decision that may be considered unusual.
Eastern and Western societies expect opposites from each other. While humility is a virtue in the East, the West admires the confident. The word assertive is meant to be a positive word in the Western context, but it can be perceived as negative in the East. An assertive character in the Western context is someone trustworthy who has great self-confidence whereas an Easterner may view such a person as rude and self-centered.
The book reveals differences between the East and West through such interesting experiments, which will help readers gain a better understanding of “the other.”

By Pyo Jeonghun