Chan Ho Park diarrhea comment reflects cultural divide

Chan Ho Park and wife Ri-hye Park appear at a party, dressed in elegant formalwear.

Chan Ho Park and wife Ri-hye Park. (Photo: Ump Bump)

While the initial reaction of many Americans to New York Yankees pitcher Chan Ho Park’s diarrhea comment will undoubtedly be laughter, the reality is that the incident reflects a cultural divide between South Korea and America. Sports media in America – particularly New York – approach players aggressively. Players are expected to “play ball” and submit to their questions, or they’re labeled some form of “malcontent” or “clubhouse cancer.” Credit repair is needed after those labels are affixed. Yet South Korean culture dictates that athletes and citizens in general place high value on such concepts as che-myun (“saving face”) and kongson (“politeness”). In explaining why he’d pitched ineffectively in his two appearances previous to the legendary April 7 “Chan Ho Park diarrhea” video, Park no doubt wanted to establish common ground with the American reporters and be cooperative while establishing the bigger picture for his stint of poor pitching.

Chan Ho Park and diarrhea – not a unique New York Yankees experience

Back in 1986, if Chan Ho Park had announced diarrhea to the New York Media, they’d have told him to come up with an original excuse. You see, Yankees pitcher Ed Whitson was already feeling the heat of the New York spotlight back then, and it literally caused him gastro-intestinal distress. Chan Ho Park experienced a human ailment that’s easy to address with payday loans if his salary was tied up in investments at the moment. Yes, diarrhea may be funny to Americans, but South Koreans do not necessarily share the same sense of humor. And, as stated above, it is culturally taboo not to cooperate with authority figures (and the media are treated with less scorn in Asian countries like South Korea than they are in America). Chan Ho Park was only being honest, and if you watch the video, it seems clear that he’s confused by how funny the American reporters find his statement. Either that or he has a great poker face.

What Chan Ho Park diarrhea has to do with the Power Distance Index

According to Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede, the Power Distance Index (PDI) measures how a particular culture deals with hierarchy and authority. According to veteran military pilot and essayist Albert Southwick, “a culture with a high PDI is more apt to respect authority even when authority is plainly in error.” This could possibly suggest that America’s low PDI score – in tune with the nation’s general lack of respect for authority and foreign beliefs – indicates why the American sports media is always pushing for the sensational story. A native of South Korea – a nation with a high PDI score – would respect the media authority, even if they’re invading his privacy. That could be why Chan Ho Park complied with their questions and revealed what Americans would consider TMI – too much information.

But that’s nothing compared with flaming plane wrecks

Further study of Southwick’s article illustrates the Chan Ho Park diarrhea dynamic, but on a much more serious scale. In the 1990s, Korean Airlines jets got into fatal accidents. The reason speculated is that rather than questioning the clarity of English language instructions from air traffic control towers and possibly appearing as though they were questioning authority, the Korean pilots remained silent and misunderstood. “Chan Ho Park diarrhea” is hardly a “Koreagate” when compared with loss of life, right?

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