Sunday, May 04, 2008


After my sports day I showered up and hopped in the car to head out of town with Sung Hyun to meet up with his family. I always get nervous at these kind of meetings because my Korean is not so great and they speak to me full force as if I'm a Korean. Sung Hyun has to translate EVERYTHING and I get nervous if he's not at my side every.single.second!!!!!!

Well this time I did much better and just spoke what I could when I could and didn't worry about what they thought of me.

But I still had MAJOR CULTURE SHOCK. Even though I have been in Korea for over 2 years and am dating a Korean I still have times when I think WOW THIS IS SOOO WEIRD. Well let's just say I felt that way a lot this weekend!!!

I have been eating this more often ever since I tried it in the Hongdae park with Chelsey. It's called 떡볶이 and consists of rice cakes in a spicy red sauce. It'll leave your lips-a-burnin'

And what was supposed to be a two hour drive turned into a SEVEN HOUR BUMPER TO BUMPER NOT SO FUN DRIVE. I was happy to arrive (even thought it was past 11 p.m.) and the family even waited for us before we ate. We drove up to a big feast of SAMGYUPSAL (again) and a whole whack of Korean side dishes.

And Sung Hyun's mom certainly wasn't afraid to smack my bum once again, repeatedly; which she has been doing everytime I meet her. CULTURE SHOCK #1.

I was forced to drink a couple shots of SOJU, but when someone (who is older than you) offers you a drink you can't say 'no'. CULTURE SHOCK #2

I crashed shortly after we got there because I was so tired. The kids stayed up till past two running and screaming in and out of the house. There were 14 people in total and they let me have the bed (yay!!!!) because the heater was up to 27 degrees Celsius and I was sweating before I even went to bed. Most of the adults stayed up till past 2 drinking and playing GO-STOP (a Korean card game). They kept the door open to the bedroom and the kids were running out and in of the room we were sleeping in. I was waiting for one of the adults to tell the kids to shut the door and be quiet so that we could sleep, but that didn't happen. CULTURE SHOCK #3

Sung Hyun's mom asked me for money. I understood her Korean and she said "can you give me some money please!!!". How the hell do you answer that question? That was CULTURE SHOCK moment #4!!!! Hummmm don't know what that was all about.......any Koreans out there to explain this one to me (since I am not even married to Sung Hyun and this is only the 4th time I have met her).

This is a picture of Sung Hyun and two of his sisters on the left and his mom (eating) behind him.

The next day we had a big breakfast feast -- rice and side dishes once again. I was eating faster than I normally would because I know Koreans are typically fast eaters but it wasn't fast enough because I was only half finished my rice when they were all finished. Sung Hyun's sister said in question form "is this food NOT delicious". To which I replied "yes it's delicious, but I just eat slow". CULTURE SHOCK #5. I would have been happy to stop eating right then and there but I hadn't finished my rice and it's rude to leave without finishing ALL OF YOUR RICE.

Then I did ALL THE DISHES (man why is there such a need for all those small side dish plates). I must have been standing over that sink for 30 minutes and when I finished one of his sisters told Sung Hyun that they will have to wash them again because I didn't do a good enough job.


CULTURE SHOCK #6. I filled the sink up with soap and water, scrubbed them and then rinsed them under the tap to remove the soap..........which is exactly what I do at my house. And when I see Sung Hyun scrub them with soap (and only soap) and then set them all to the side, then scrub them again with ONLY water I laugh at him. Well I guess that's the Korean way to wash dishes. BUT NOBODY STOPPED ME TO TELL ME I DID THEM WRONG OR SHOWED ME HOW TO DO THEM........ahhhhhh so frustrating!!

The next day we went fishing. Here's a pic of his brother watching TV. Although several members of Sung Hyun's family smoke (but only the men because women DON'T smoke in Korea, it's bad) I found it weird that Sung Hyun wouldn't smoke with them. They all stood 20 feet apart from each other because they are not the same age -- but they are the same family?!?!?! CULTURE SHOCK #7

It certainly was a interesting experience and I wish my camera battery didn't die so I could have shared more pictures with you. I guess it will have to wait till the next time we are together!!!!!


Amanda said...

I thought SH didn't have any brothers? Is it a brother-in-law?

About the money and dishes...are they testing you to be a "good" daughter-in-law or something?


Why am I here??? said...

Yah it's his brother-in-law!!!!

I guess I'm not such a "good" daughter-in-law after all!!!!!

JL said...

I have HEARD from a girlfriend that married someone w/a traditional Korean family that everything you just described happens...often. She couldn't ever do anything to the satisfaction of the she just stopped. Even though I'm Korean I haven't dated anyone w/traditional parents. Sounds like you handled it though.

Beloved said...

Hmmm...that's a lot of culture shock. I'm glad I'm not the only who experienced it.

The money thing puzzles me a little. I mean, definitely if you and Sung-Hyun were married you would be expected to give his mother (and maybe other family members) money possibly regularly, but for her to ask you as his girlfriend seems a little odd to me. I've never encountered that. My mother-in-law actually always tried to give me money whenever I visited before and after marriage and she is not well off. But she's a fairly atypical MIL as far as I know. She never asks us for money and plenty of in-laws do. I'm going to ask my husband about that and if he offers any perspective, I'll let you know!

Why am I here??? said...

Thanks ladies, any advice would help!!!!!!!

Sung Hyun says that she was just joking!!! But seriously do you joke about something like that??

Daniel said...

yeah, I don't get the money thing either.

but sounds like you handled yourself well. :)

I totally understand the way you feel. whenever I find myself among a large family gathering, I too feel a bit awkward and out of place. AND I'm korean!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, Jennifer, no, you don’t have to say yes all the time just because somebody older than you asks you something, such as giving you a drink. You can come up with some reasonable excuse, such as ‘I’ve got a headache at the moment.’, or 'I don't feel very well at the moment.'.

One way of reducing the chance of not finishing your rice bowl is to start with the approximate amount you think you should be able to clear up: if you think rice in your bowl is too much for you to handle at the time, you can remove or ask someone to remove some into the rice cooker or some big pan where your rice came from before you start eating.

Another way is to start with the amount a bit less than you think you can clear, and if you feel hungry at finishing the bowl, you can get some more.

About the money question, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think it’s very common in Korea, particularly for somebody older than you, asking you pocket money. My guess is that, because she has probably lived a economically difficult life, and she probably assumes you would have a well-paid job because you came from a rich country, and she thinks you’re a part of her family, so she thinks she can ask you something like that. But I don’t know. All I can say is I don’t’ think my late mother would have asked my girlfriend for money even if the latter has a very well-paid job.

About the kids coming and going into your room, why didn’t you ask SH to ask them to go away?

SH’s mom smaking your bum? She seems to like you a lot, but I think you can ask SH to ask her to stop it, if it bothers you.

And finally, you don't have to be very sensitive about every comment SH's relatives make, as some comments they made were clearly not very considerate. They might realise later that they made silly comments.


Why am I here??? said...

Good point E.L........I think you're right about the money thing because she assumed I was more welloff that her.

I know you have commented before, but who are you again??? Are you Korean, because you seem to know a lot about the culture!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

A Korean living in nz.


Why am I here??? said...

Cool, do you have a blog E.L?

Anonymous said...

No, I have very poor linguistic talent.


Anonymous said...

By the way, about the bum-smacking you'll sometimes see Korean grannies and older aunties do that to their grandkids, nephews or nieces, but not usually to grown-ups when they adore them. In your case you're not a kid, but I think she adores you, and she didn't see you when you were a kid, so she couldn't resist her temptation to touch you. But tht's just my guess.

E. L