Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Culture Shock: Chopsticks

On the issue of chopsticks, I must first begin with saying that I have my good days and I have my bad days. Today was a good day.

For me, any day where I don't drop food out of my chopsticks is a good day. At first, I had more bad days than good days. However, two months into my life in Korea, I think the good days are wining out. I'm having victory over this thing.

In the States, eating with chopsticks was a novelty. I'd do it with Chinese food or Vietnamese food, or the occasional sushi treat. I always had those wooden chopsticks and I was never very good at it.

In Korea, chopsticks are standard, and they are slick stainless steel. I was amazed at how difficult eating with smooth chopsticks could be. Wooden chopsticks provide grip which keeps food from slipping away. For the first couple weeks, I struggled with my grip, my hands hurt from the increased demand on the muscles, and i dropped a lot of food. A lot of food.

After a couple weeks of using chopsticks daily, I found it much easier--although I still dropped a lot of food. My fellow teachers would actually compliment me on my chopsticks skills! I thought they were just placating me until I watched one of the Korean teachers. She's probably in her early fifties. She leaned over and said, "I think you use chopsticks better than I do." I smiled, and watched her eat. I was better than she was! I was surprised at how many thing she would stab with her chopsticks, how many things she dropped, and how many times she had to adjust her grip. It felt good.

While my chopstick skills are improving, there have been a couple things that have made life here easier.
  1. It is okay to "stab" some things with your chopsticks
  2. Not only is it okay to eat rice with a spoon, up until about twenty years ago, it was considered rude not to eat rice with a spoon
  3. If you drop something, pretend you meant to do it. This is much easier if the food lands on your plate. Pretend you are experimenting. I have seen many Korean put random side dishes in their soup.
  4. If you are having a "bad day" say this phrase with a big smile, a tilt of the head, and shrug of the shoulders, "Waygook saram ahyeahyo" (Friel Romanization). It means "I'm a foreigner."

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