Shrink-Wrapped Bars of Soap

One of the things that I really like about the Korean culture is that many Koreans are very generous gift givers.  Now, we certainly have our fair share of generous friends back home, but most of those are people we know very well.  The thing is, here, a lot of the gift-givers are people that we either barely know, or we don’t even know at all.

Let me clarify. This doesn’t happen to Jen as much, but it is fairly common at my school.  I’ll be off teaching one of my classes and upon my return, I’ll have a little surprise waiting for me on my desk.  Usually it is 떡 (ddeok – you pronounce this somewhat like “dock”), which is rice cake, for you non-Koreans out there.  I’ve come to really love 떡 and I’ll eat just about any variety of it.  But sometimes I’ll get something a little more… well… random.  And I’ll get to that later.  But back to the point at hand.

It seems that Koreans celebrate a lot of occasions and milestones here and they do so in a very public manner.  When I arrive at my desk and I ask one of my co-teachers who gave the gift and why, she’ll give me one of a variety of reasons and tell me it’s from another teacher (I wouldn’t know who it was even if she told me their names!).  Sometimes, even she doesn’t know why we were given gifts though, so that should give you some indication of how random it sometimes seems.  Reasons for such celebrations include celebrating a marriage, the birth of a child, the arrival and/or departure of a new principal – yes, my old principal gave every teacher a package of bar soaps when he left the school.  Not just one bar, but a package of four or six shrink-wrapped bars.  Every teacher!!!  And so when some teacher in another department gets married, she will send every teacher in the school a package of 떡.  I don’t even know her.  But she sends me a gift.  Or the parents of the students will come to the school (to check out the classes and observe, I would guess?), and then leave a gift for all of the teachers, I gather as a token of appreciation for teaching their children.

So in this respect, Koreans are very generous.  This would almost never happen back in Canada.  If there is a celebration of an event, usually people will give the celebrating party a gift, and these will come only from close friends at that.  Here, it’s the other way around.  If you have an event to celebrate, you give everyone a gift.  And some of the gifts are quite expensive too.  I can’t imagine having to spend that much money on people I don’t even know!  But I guess that is simply what everyone does here.  It’s normal and you do it because that’s just what you do.

Now there’s another aspect to this gift-giving that I *really* enjoy.  And that is that Koreans usually give very practical gifts.  It seemed random when we received our first bar of soap, but hey, soap is something that we can always use.

Anyway, giving gifts is a significant part of the Korean culture and it’s one that I’ve certainly come to appreciate.  The people here are certainly generous, and practical too, though some of the things still feel somewhat, well, random.  I’ll leave you with a partial list of some of the items that we’ve received during our stay here:

  • socks
  • tights
  • a compact mirror
  • rice cakes (this is by far the most common gift, mmmm)
  • a box of cookies
  • a cucumber
  • a keychain
  • boxes toothpaste (more than once!!)
  • body wash
  • bars of soap
  • an umbrella (it actually looks pretty sturdy)
  • a box of kleenex
  • a sports towel

Oh Korea, how I do love you…

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~ by dawseng on May 29, 2008.

4 Responses to “Shrink-Wrapped Bars of Soap”

  1. Wow! I’m coming to teach at your school! I feel left out with the variety of gifts you’ve been given…particularly the cucumber 😛

  2. To be fair, some these gifts were received by Jen at her school too, so really, you’d have to move to both of our schools!

  3. LOL!!!!! A cucumber???? hahahahahaha….i laughed out loud for real on that one. A guy in the office just passing by looked at me funny.

  4. Yeah, I was happy to get the cucumber… Recently I received a box of cookies and some flowers from moms in my moms English class. I’ll also frequently have teachers in the school bring tons of food into my office – so yummy! (And usually it’s food that we don’t buy because it’s too expensive, like yellow kiwi, and watermelon, and grapes…mmm!) We’ve also received oranges from our landlords! There’s something else we’ve received recently but neither of us can think of what it was…. it was awesome too… drat!

    ~Jen

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