23 June 2008

Pop Quiz: The Coffee Dilemma

A Korean neighbour stops by your house to deliver your mail, which had inadvertently been left at her home. You begin a friendly conversation, during which you offer her some coffee. She politely refuses. What should you do?
  • A. Take her answer at face value, and drop the subject.
  • B. Bring her coffee anyway.
  • C. A little later, ask her if she wants coffee again.
  • D. Assume that she's Buddhist, and offer her tea as Buddhists don't drink coffee.


I found a copy of the Culture Shock: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette edition on Korea at my cousin's house. Written by a Korean man and his American wife, the guide seems to offer insight on the culture and history of Korea. I can't attest to the book's accuracy, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. The book includes information on life in Korea, the "Korean Way of Seeing," and tips on how to "interact with Koreans." The back of the book also features a "Cultural Quiz" featuring scenarios like the one quoted at the start of the post.

I will be sure to post any tidbits that I find particularly interesting.

Are you ready for the answer to the coffee dilemma? Here it is (verbatim):

In Korea it is sometimes considered rude to accept something right away. So her refusal may well be out of politeness. When someone visits your home, it is always proper to serve your guest something, and serving something is probably more important than if the guest actually enjoys what you serve. The best answer in this case would be C, but is she refuses again, bring her refreshment anyhow. Answer B would be second best. In fact, it is acceptable to bring something to your guest without consulting her first. Sometimes sugar and cream are added to coffee without consulting the guest. Answer A would be considered rude, and answer D is simply true.

I never realized this, but it has always been customary in my family to offer guests some form of refreshments. Cyndi and I are always stuffing snacks in people's faces, whether they wanted any or not. I never realized that our "sharing is caring" ways were tied to culture of the Motherland.

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