“Hello Dinie, here is a Starbucks coffee. Come have a donut too.”
Oh no…”did I forget someone’s birthday?!?!”
Turns out, if Koreans say they “gonna party (and eat cake) like it’s yo birthday”, they mean it. In fact, it’s the weekly motto. Bringing gifts, especially food, to work is such an everyday tradition here. A refreshingly wonderful one. Also one that has saved me from hangryness many times when I forgot my lunch, I must add.
I love giving gifts and I’ve often ran the risk of coming across as too eager when I just couldn’t control my urge to shower people in gifts. Yes, people have often thought I was in love with them. And no, it never turned out great. Here they just think I’m joining in on this generous tradition. Welcome home Dinie.
This month there has been countless Starbucks coffees, donuts, pizzas, cakes, tangerines, apples, energy drinks, rice cakes and cookies in the office. I feel so blessed with so much love (literally) being thrown in my face and it has brought me even more joy to return the favour.
I’ve heard the same story from all the other foreign teachers I’ve asked. All testify of the same caketastic generosity. Someone even told me about that one colleague in their office who never brings gifts and how strange everyone else finds it. If you’re not into gifts, there must be something wrong with you.
“Who left their books on the floor?”
“Must be what’s his face, he never brings gifts.”
This give and take culture is everywhere in Korea. Almost every time we go out someone else will offer to get the bill and friends often take turns getting coffee for each other.
The other night I wanted to pay for my cheesecake when the lady at the counter told me my friend already paid. I tried to explain in broken Korean how I still had to pay when my friend said it’s chilled, she paid. I can get the next one. What a heartwarming gesture. She told me in Korea you give a lot and receive even more. Wow. Guess now is not the time to convince yourself you’re ‘actually banting’.
I must add that these gifts, although mostly food, can also include a few interesting things. During Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year), the gift giving spirit reaches new heights and gifts are exchanged left, right and center. I saw an intriguing green box on my chair… I was so surprised by the unique gift that I got that I really didn’t know what to make of it, so I decided to act oblivious until someone told me about it. Then my principle came to me and exclaimed,
“Dinie! Did you see your gift?”
“A gift? For me? Really?”
“Yes! It’s toothpaste!”
I really couldn’t keep my laugh in any longer, so I burst out in overjoyed laughter . How did she know I was low on toothpaste? I was so excited and grateful that she thought of me, that I went straight in for a hug – BIG MISTAKE. The one thing Koreans don’t really give are hugs. Way to go Dinie, thanking your principle for the gourmet toothpaste package with an awkward pat on the back kind of side-hug. Was still a great moment, though. She’s the nicest!
So, maybe Koreans don’t hug everyone, but they sure know how to take care of each other. Be it by feeding you or making sure your teeth are clean, you’ll feel the love.