Friday, September 28, 2012

A Bit of Food Etiquette

Some things I've learned that are useful for living in a Korean household...

1. Don't eat 찌개 (jjigae) or 국 (guk) with chopsticks. It's soup. Use a spoon.
Okay, this might seem completely obvious to some, but let me explain. I grew up using chopsticks to eat a lot of things, including soup. It's business as usual to pick out the masticable bits and then to pick up the bowl itself to drain what's left. Apparently, that's not how it's done here. I've never actually seen any Korean pick up their bowl. But Koreans use spoons to a much greater extent than Chinese and Taiwanese. So I'm going to start getting used to sipping slowly!

[edit] I asked my host parents today about this: in fact, it is just fine to finish what's left in your bowl by picking it up and sipping from it. They do this on TV advertisements all the time. However, I still haven't seen anyone actually do it. [/edit]

2. It is impolite to watch your superiors/elders eat.
So, at least in my household, when I've finished breakfast with the host family, I have to get up and go somewhere else. I tell my host mother, "But I like so sit!" The reply: "Nope! Please get up." So I go to my room. Koreans tend to eat quickly, and I haven't completely adjusted to their dining speed yet. In the cafeteria, I'm usually the last to finish, which is fine if I'm eating with my students, but they feel awkward about waiting for me, because, well, I count as a superior to them. At a restaurant for a huishik, this may mean: if you notice you're eating too quickly, slow down. You can't finish until your superiors are finished.

3. Hot and spicy food is often eaten in order to "cool down".
It's not secret that Koreans love spicy food. But it sounds paradoxical when, after a fiery 김치 찌개 (kimchi stew), they'll lean back and say, "시원하다!" Shiwonhada means "cool". When I finished my share of kimchi stew, I felt anything but cool. No, seriously, I was sweating. But, as my co-teacher explained, the sweat brings out impurities in your body, and once the sweat evaporates, you do indeed feel cooler and refreshed. So when it comes to the 매운 음식, grin and bear it!

That's it for now! Watching Pirates of the Caribbean 4 with my host brother and sister on a rare night off for them. And this weekend is Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving! 여러분 추석 잘 보내세요!

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