When you receive a card that says RSVP, which stands for the French “repondez s’il vous plait,” it means you must reply immediately whether you accept or decline the invitation. The same thing goes for emails and text messages, even though there is no RSVP attached.
Since it all depends on the person -- we cannot stereotype people. However, it is undeniable that older Koreans are notorious for not responding to emails or text messages. The only problem is that older people frequently occupy important positions in society. If they fail to respond quickly, or not at all, the institutions they lead will end up losing important opportunities, not to mention their good reputation and respect. Especially in diplomacy, having a fast response and taking swift action are imperative. Otherwise, you will lose reliability and trustworthiness in the international community and consequently other nations will turn their backs on you.
If you do not respond to an email or a text message, people will think of you as an “irresponsible” person. In order to be a responsible and dependable person, therefore, you should write back right away after you receive emails or text messages. It is especially important when the other party is a foreigner because your carelessness could ruin not only your personal credibility, but also your country’s reputation.
Fortunately, our young people respond swiftly. Whenever I text or email them, they not only promptly reply, but also keep sending me messages even after I write, “OK. I got it. Thank you.”
However, the older generation is not good at responding.
Recently, I sent a business email to two senior professors in Korea regarding an American university’s interest in establishing academic exchange programs with the Korean universities with which they are affiliated. My email indicated that they had read my inquiry. To my disappointment, however, neither of them responded. Even if they were not interested in the proposition, they should at least write back saying they would consider it or discuss the matter with those who were concerned. Surely, that would have been a common courtesy. Regrettably, they do not seem to care.
A similar problem goes for personal emails and texts as well. Lately, I sent a rather long email to an acquaintance who had just landed an important position dealing with international affairs. To my disappointment, he wrote back just one terse sentence, “Thanks for your congratulatory email.” Of course, it was better than no response, and yet it surely was not polite to write such a short response to a long, friendly email from someone who is overseas and much older. It would have been much better if he had added just one more sentence such as “I will do my best to meet the expectations,” or “I would appreciate your continuous support.”
When I taught at Seoul National University two decades ago, I frequently received emails and letters from officials of foreign universities saying that they wrote to the administration office of SNU, but did not receive a reply. Recently, an American university sent three emails to Seoul National University to discuss the postponement of the student exchange program due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. Embarrassingly, however, the foreign university disclosed that it did not hear from SNU at all and had to suspend the program without consulting with them. Alas! Nothing seems to have changed after all these years.
If the emails or text messages are offensive or malicious, you do not need to respond. Otherwise, you should write back as soon as possible whether you like it or not. Most especially, if someone makes queries, you should answer him right away because he is likely to wait for your reply anxiously. It would be rude and inconsiderate if you make him wait indefinitely.
Suppose you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend who does not respond to your email or text messages. Would you like to continue the relationship? Surely, you would not. The same thing goes for business, social networks and diplomacy. As they say, relationships require reciprocal care and trust. If you want to earn a good reputation, you need to respond fast to any emails or text messages you have received. If you neglect to do so, you will lose dependability and become a social pariah, especially in the international community.
As for me, I have always tried to reply to emails or text messages as fast as possible. Thus, I have earned two nicknames: “Flash Kim” and “Supersonic Kim.”
When I turn on my computer in the morning, I have approximately 20 new emails. Then, I begin to reply to all of them instantly. During the daytime, my smartphone alerts me with a beep whenever I have a new incoming email so I can answer immediately. Thanks to such habits, I seldom lose my correspondence overseas.
My fellow Koreans, please respond to your emails and text messages as soon as you receive them. Repondez s’il vous plait!
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.