If you're at a restaurant or bar in Korea and it's some body's birthday, you know it! There is music, cheering, and most importantly: cake. Even though Koreans turn a year older on New Years, they do celebrate their date of birth.
At a bar last weekend, Min, Young and I were seated next to a booth of girls. I've had an easy time befriending guys, but Korean girls are hard nuts to crack. I haven't met many I want to spend hours talking to.
"What do Korean girls talk about?" I asked Min. "Movie stars, friends, clothes, personal problems. They aren't interested in politics." He gave a blanket response, but that was the nature of my question wasn't it. "Do you want to meet the girls at the table?" Min asked when he saw my sidewards glance. "I prefer handsome male friends. I don't have ugly ones." At first I wasn't sure if he was serious but he was.
Later, the girls left. On their table sat a half-finished cake. It must have been sparkling in my eyes because Young laughed. "You can't take their cake!" I hadn't given it serious thought but I humoured him: "why not? No one else is going to eat it."
"Somebody might see you!" "Who cares?" We were at a bar, not a ritzy cafe. The atmosphere of Korean and Canadian bars is radically different. Bars in big cities like Montreal are social breeding grounds. Strangers mingle and bold behavior is appreciated. Traditional Korean bars are civilized places where people remain at their respective tables, eating and drinking.
We watched the waitress clear the table. She got a little frosting on her thumb. When she wiped it on a napkin, Min said, "she didn't lick it off because she wouldn't want to be caught doing it. Koreans care what people think." She was on the job so it would be unprofessional. I get that. But Young continued:
"The reason you don't see many handicapped kids is the family wouldn't want people to see them and think, oh, they have a handicapped child. They would feel shame." I think my previous post, about the lack of status in Korea, was written through rosy glasses.
The SUV driving, Prada show off is everywhere; status is blatantly obvious in Korea. I even read that Korean women are encouraged to spend 35% of their incomes on physical appearance. But at the same time, manners are highly regarded and this gives the semblance of equality. Strong influences of Confucian thought still exist today, influencing the social relations between young and old.
You never pour your own drink in Korea. The eldest at the table is offered a drink first- one poured to the brim, that is, and to decline the first drink is poor etiquette. He pouring must use both hands in a courteous fashion- one hand on the bottle and he other held lightly under his right arm. Young explained that peoples' sleeves were flowing in the olden days, so this kept them out of food and drink.