Time flies. Since I already spent more than a month here in Korea, I felt like it’s time to draw an (almost) halftime résumé and summarize some peculiarities I became aware of while living here.
First of all: Forget everything you heard about how Germans love eating meat. Koreans are the real meat-eaters. As I’m usually living on a (mostly) vegetarian diet, this part of Korean lifestyle was quite difficult for me. I tried to adapt, so in the first few weeks, I ate more meat on various Korean barbecue company dinners than I would otherwise have eaten in two to three years. But a little over a week ago, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go back to my usual vegetarian diet – at least to as large an extent as that is possible. Avoiding the meat at the daily lunch and dinner buffet in the company is easy most of the time. Dinners in restaurants, however, often don’t offer any alternatives to eating meat. And the problem with going shopping on my own is that I neither have a kitchen, nor speak enough Korean to understand what I’m actually buying in many cases. But that’s the adventure of living abroad, and I guess three months of eating meat every now and then won’t kill me.
Another thing I realized that was quite astonishing to me: Scissors seem to have entirely replaced knives in Korea. Except for in a large western-style hotel in Seoul, I haven’t seen any knives here so far. Apparently, the people here prefer scissors – often combined with tongs – to knives in a lot of cases. Some examples: When you go to Korean barbecue, the waiters will put a huge chunk of meat of the grill in front of you. After leaving it there for some time, they will pick it up with their tongs and then cut it into little, bit-sized pieces with their scissors. When you finish with the meat and order some noodles as a main dish, these will be handed to you with a pair of scissors as well. You will then use the scissors to cut the noodles, making it easier to eat them. Lastly – and this is still what surprised me most, especially as a German – when you go to a bakery and buy some bread to eat right away, this will also be given to you with some scissors. Eating bread rolls with a fork and some scissors felt quite strange to me.
Speaking of eating: I think after almost five weeks in the country, I have gotten used to people making all kinds of noises while eating. Smacking your lips while eating is considered good behavior here and my only concern now is not to adapt the habit myself. A thing I haven’t gotten used to, though, is the daily confrontation with all the other “bodily functions”: Spitting, which is usually accompanied by loud noises. Burping, usually followed by a cloud of garlic stench. And people using public toilets without even thinking about closing the doors (I’ll spare you the details here). I always try to travel with an open mind, but I guess I can’t fully deny my own cultural upbringing.
The fact that this post is heavily food-related only confirms what I have been feeling for a while now: All I do here during the week is work and eat – plus some sports in order to get at least a little exercise. My private life takes place mostly on the weekends only – and even then, I often join colleagues on little excursions, as mentioned in my previous posts.