To imagine the stress of gift-giving in a foreign culture, imagine the stress of Christmas gift-giving, which is stressful even though you understand the rules and the relative value of different products and the expectations of those to whom you give, and then imagine walking into E-mart in Korea, which is full of ladies in hanbok stationed every three feet saying “Welcome,” and are pushing $50 boxes of apples and $30 packaged gift sets of spam. Imagine trying to figure out exactly what it is appropriate to give your school officials for a holiday you have never celebrated. A holiday about which you know only two things for certain–that the date is set on the lunar calendar, which you know because your first graders told you so, and that you are supposed to give gifts. You should have seen my compatriot miserably carrying around the $50 box of apples that she ultimately, and wisely, I think, decided to put back.
I must make sure that my principle’s gift is more valuable than the vice principle’s gift which is more valuable than my coteacher’s gift. I can’t decide if the fact that the packaging of a less expensive gift is bigger makes it seem more valuable. And what exactly is the comparative value of apples to alcohol?
Fortunately, every culture has a donut, although it comes in many forms – gulab jammun, Krispy Kreme, sopapillas, dok. Therefore, everyone must like donuts. Ipso facto, no one will be disappointed to recieve a wrapped box of bakery goodies.
My logic proved unassailable. I said “Happy Chuseok,” which they seemed to find endearingly foreign, and recieved a round of applause from the, apparently, hungry gyomoshil. Koreans have also seemed to like that in my gift-giving culture, unlike in Korean culture, you are allowed to open the present when you get it. So the full extent of available cookies and cakes increased as gifts were opened and then shared.
Though the poor students have physical fitness testing and are outside running while we eat donuts.