So I’m on my computer, trying to decipher Microsoft Word in Korean per usual, when the teacher on my right, Sujin, taps me on my shoulder and asks if I want a clementine.
Then she asks Sohee, who’s on my other side, if she wants one. Sure thank you!
So I go back to clicking buttons to find “page orientation” in Korean when Sujin taps me on the shoulder again and says, “do you want to split my banana?” She said this completely seriously—like she is 100% willing to do so. No Sujin! You eat your banana! And she laughed.
That is one interesting thing about Korean culture
See—at first I thought you couldn’t eat at the office. But then I realized that no, everyone eats at the office. It’s just that everyone eats each others food. There is no such thing as “your food” and “my food”.
Another example—yesterday Sohee came in with a Hershey’s chocolate bar and offered a bite to me, shoved in my face actually. So I took one. Then she went around to every person in the office and everyone took a bite so she literally had about 2 squares left. And there was no disappointment or guile or resentment. No, she brought that Hershey bar to work knowing that she would only eat a little herself. But also knowing that she would get a clementine from Sujin, coffee from the communal coffee maker, mochi from Jessica, and some chocolate milk from Director. Okay she didn’t know those exact things, but you get the picture.
In the States, and probably many other places, your food is your food. Everyone may come and sit at the same table for lunch, but still everyone is eating their own food.
Maybe, MAYBE, if they are family you would ask for a piece of their chocolate and they’ll either sigh, roll their eyes and offer it
If they’re a good friend they might offer you some and you’d probably accept but only take a small bite out of consideration.
And if they’re an extremely polite acquaintance they may offer you some, but it’d almost be rude to say yes. If you say “yes I’d love a handful of your potato chips” and go ahead and take some they’re probably like, “oh really? I was just kidding.”
But from what I’ve seen in Korea, if you bring food into the office, you better bring enough for at least the people beside you. And when you offer them some, you better be willing to give some up. I realized this yesterday, so when I came into work early with a bag of some kind of snack (I want to try every snack) and Sohee was already there, I offered her some. There were probably only about three chips left (I’d eaten while walking) and yet she still took some. I was glad because she’s given me Hersheys, Andes chocolates, grapes, all sorts of things.
While I may not have an official lunch break, my students eat food in class quite often—especially the ones that come for the 4 o’clock block. My Ladies always bring in medium size bags of chips—bigger than the personal size but slightly smaller than full size. I don’t think that size exists in America because it’s like these bags are the exact size for you and a small amount of people around you to get plenty. And these bags of chips/cripsies/fry things are all laid out in the center and everyone eats some. And they bring some up to me and put them in my mouth.
Or today Jully brought me to the corner to give me a piece of candy from her purse. I think she did it secretly because it was her last piece so she didn’t have any for the boys (Mystery and Mr. E).
Then in another class Cherry gave me a protein bar—like a legit expensive one—and I was like “Cherry that’s for you!” and she said “no teacher I have many”. Yesterday she gave me this weird white wax covered thing and told me it was a sausage but I’ve been too scared to open it.
And then Gu Jun Pyo came into my intensive class late (as always). I need a nickname for this one—the one with the old kid and the quiet girl and harry potter and my savior Chris and Gu Jun Pyo—let’s just call them my Specials. Yes so Gu Jun Pyo walked into My Specials late with a giant bag of fried dough fish shaped cakes filled with creme and he gave one to every single person, including myself. I’ve seen these on the street—they’re sold singally, like churros, from little stands.
You see, Gu Jun Pyo came straight from another hagwan and didn’t have time to eat, so his mom bought him street food (lucky boy). But you can’t just buy your kid food—there has to be enough to share with everyone. Even if everyone else had lunch—your kid can’t be the only one eating. It’s not polite. She didn’t know how many kids would be in his class, so she bought 12. Meaning everyone got two in the end.
It’s like this at meal times too. If you’re with another person, even if you just ordered the bibimbap and they got the kimbap, you’re also given a little communal kimchi, and usually some radishes or fishcakes. You don’t order them on the side like you would some french fries, and it’s not like there’s an asterisk at the bottom of the menu *comes with side dishes.
They just—are there.
ISN’T THAT FASCINATING.
So—moral of the story—if you don’t like to share your food, then don’t eat it at work. And if you don’t mind sharing your food, you will become everyone’s favorite person.
PS. I asked Gu Jun Pyo if his hair curled that way naturally or with a perm. He said his mom curls it every day. I just about hacked up my creme filled carp cake but somehow I kept it down.
Also—quiet girl read today and old kid made eye contact. So you could say we are making progress. And Chris is a complete genius. It was my final “new lesson” —intensive science— which was about the properties of light. The book asked what a sundial was and Chris actually knew and explained it to the class in English. Like…what?