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Food. It brings families together, friends bond over it, and everyone posts pictures of it social media. Safe to say that food is pretty popular, right?
Toward the end of this semester, I decided to go to a Korean restaurant to fulfill as a cultural experience requirement for one of my courses. After explaining to my friends that I would be asking them questions about Korean customs, my friend from Korea said she wished that she could take me to her home for dinner, since the customs in the restaurant would be different.
That’s when my other friend, who is Korean-American, suggested that we have dinner at her place. Though she was born in the United States, her parents are from Korea and were happy to educate others about their customs and culture. It was perfect!
I was nervous the day of our dinner. I didn’t want to do anything to offend my friend’s parents. When I arrived, her parents greeted me with a huge smile and kept saying how happy they were to meet their daughter’s friend. I saw shoes neatly lined up, but they assured me that I did not need to take off my shoes if I did not want to. What they didn’t know was that my friend had given me pointers ahead of time, saying that her parents would say this, but would prefer shoes to be taken off, as this is a sign of respect. Wanting to earn points, I politely slipped off my shoes.
While eating, they shared so many interesting facts and Korean culture lessons, making the conversation easier and more comfortable than it would have been if I’d just asked questions. I learned that it’s respectful to thank those you are hosting before you even eat. I noticed that all the food was placed in the center of the table, within everyone’s reach. My friend told me ahead of time that the eldest start eating first, so I waited patiently.
My friend’s mother shared that, while eating, we shouldn’t hold the bowl of soup or rice. This is common in other Asian cultures, but in Korea the bowl stays on the table. Yet when someone re-fills your cup, you must hold it with both hands.
I also noted that there were many sides, my favorite of which was kimchi, a staple in Korean meals. The most interesting thing I learned is that it is very rude to blow your nose at the table, no matter how spicy the kimchi is. You should excuse yourself and do it elsewhere. Thankfully, my Mexican taste buds are used to spicy, so that was not a problem.
Overall, I had so much fun dining with my friends and her parents. I learned many insights about a culture I was not familiar with. Being Hispanic, there were similarities in our dining customs (particularly the fact that the oldest is always served by someone younger, and that wives serve their husbands at gatherings and even at home). I enjoyed my experience and would love to do something like this again.