It's The Thought That Counts

'Way back when MrLogical first headed to Seoul and was still contributing to this blog instead of leaving all the work up to me, he wrote a charming little post about shopping in which he mentioned a common practice in Korea of giving free gifts along with a purchase.  The purchase in question at the time was (of course) beer, and the 'free gift' was - oddly - a can of tuna.  I'm not sure how or if the two are related, but I suppose it's the same idea as buying a jar of peanut butter and getting a free loaf of bread back in the US.

Sort of.

You may also recall that, when we held our housewarming, we received some gifts that - back in the US - would have been considered very odd indeed, including toilet paper and laundry detergent.  I have to say, though, as far as gifts go, it makes tremendous sense to give someone something that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will get used.  Looking back across the many housewarming gifts I have given during my life, I have to admit that a good many of them have probably been regifted or shuffled off to a garage sale or a thrift shop. Had I presented a jumbo pack of toilet paper instead, I feel sure the story would have been quite different, although I suspect we would have been removed from a number of Christmas party guest lists as a result.

Anyway, the point is, gift-giving is a bit different over here.  On the one hand, the Koreans really go out of their way to wrap everything as beautifully as possible, and one of the most popular items with expats are the gorgeously colored and embroidered cloths - bojagi - that are used for wrapping gifts.  And even something mundane, like a doughnut, is wrapped in tissue or cellophane and fastened with a lovely golden sticker before being carefully placed in a tiny decorative bag with the shop's logo on it.  It really does seem like anything that is given or sold to you is presented as nicely as possible.  On the other hand, the items you get - especially free samples and the like - are not always the types of things that we, as Westerners, expect to receive. (My favorite example of this was the guy at the electronics market who sold me and MrL two transformers and then presented us each with a juice box, but - as always - I digress.)  Believe me, I'm not complaining at all.  In fact, I really like this practical gift-giving.  However, just because I like it doesn't mean that it still doesn't occasionally take me by surprise.

I submit as evidence the free gifts that MrLogical and I have received in just the past 3 weeks.

The first gift was presented to me.  I sing with an International Women's Choir, and we had provided part of the entertainment at a conference for a business organization that promotes foreign companies in Korea, held at an extremely posh downtown hotel, in which all the banquet rooms were named after exotic flowers, as in "You will be dining in the Blue Jacaranda Room this evening."  After we sang, we were provided with a very haute cuisine dinner (by haute cuisine, I mean all the food was presented way nicer than Applebee's in splendid isolation in the middle of a plate roughly the size of a hula-hoop, accented by an artfully drizzled glaze.  There were also rakishly-angled garnishes involved, which is always a dead giveaway that you are dealing with haute cuisine.) Anyway, since our choir is all-volunteer, part-time, and - despite some gorgeously trained voices - not necessarily in very high demand on the Seoul entertainment circuit, a gourmet meal seemed like more than adequate compensation to me.  However, the event manager was apparently so pleased with our performance that, halfway through the meal, he came lumbering into the banquet room, carrying a number of paper gift bags that he proceeded to distribute to all of the surprised (and grateful) choir members.  Now, in American culture, when you get a gift bag at a business conference, it usually contains things like water bottles, mouse pads, pens, keychains, and other logo-emblazoned merchandise - nothing particularly substantial.  However, as I have mentioned, the Koreans are nothing if not practical.  Therefore, I should not have been surprised at all to discover that the gift bag contained this:

Now that's a practical gift, right? Of course, most of us live in apartments and, therefore, have nowhere to use a grill, even if we had one, but, really - it is the thought that counts.

A few weeks later, MrLogical was signed up to compete in a cycling race.  As it turned out, the event was canceled due to rain, but since he had already signed up, he still got the 'participation gift.'  Again, in the US, the gift bag for cyclists would have probably contained a couple of energy bars, a water bottle, and maybe some packets of electrolyte replacement gel.  Here's what he brought home with him:

That's right:  4kg of rice.  That beats energy bars in my book any day.


Unknown said…

I am a writer & moderator for BlogExpat and truly enjoy your blog. We have a series of expat interviews and I was hoping you would be interested. It would entail questions about being an expat, a few pictures, and it would link back to your blog.

If you are interested, just let me know and I will send the questionnaire. In any
case, keep up the great work.

Erin Porter
Barbara said…
too funny! But even though the gifts seem odd in American terms, they are really much better than American gifts!
MsCaroline said…
I agree completely, Barbara. Not sure why we don't do that more in US culture!
Fascinating! And it would make gift buying so much easier too if you knew you could just pick up some toilet roll or rice from the supermarket. I seem to mainly buy gifts for kids' parties these days (nearly every weekend it seems!) and I do find it a challenge trying to find something that a child I don't know might like, that's age appropriate, won't drive the parents crazy, won't cause the child to choke, etc, etc... Now if I could just buy a pack of diapers and have them wrapped beautifully.....!
I think they are great. And I would love someone to present my gifts in thekorean way. I am the worlds worst wrapper.
MsCaroline said…
Circles - augh, the kid gifts! Such a headache, especially when you're wondering what the kid already has. In the US, when the boys got to be around 8 or so, it became common for people to give gift cards. I resisted this trend (it seemed so impersonal) but eventually gave in, which made things so much easier!

Elizabeth: I have bought some of the cloths to wrap Christmas gifts in and have grave doubts about my ability to do it correctly. I'm not much of a wrapper, either!
Trish said…
I love these gifts - completely bonkers of course but they must surely put a big smile on your face. And far better than having rubbishy pens and key rings cluttering up the place.
MsCaroline said…
Trish - they really do. I have far too many key rings and unreliable pens already!

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