Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gift-giving aint only for the holidays!


This past week has been like any other week - busy and full of lesson planning and teaching. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had my demo class on Tuesday...

Since arriving in South Korea, I have been short of basically nothing. I was told Korean people are very generous and kind - something I can definitely vouch for. My co-workers have gone out of their way to make sure I am comfortable in my new home.

However, this week I felt more spoilt than usual.

It started on Monday ... Jong Suk arrived back to school after her week long honeymoon in Europe. As far as I know, honeymoons are meant for newly weds to celebrate the beginning of their marriage - but she came back to school loaded with gifts! In the morning, she delivered cakes and fruit to each grade's teacher's room (this was an act of reciprocity - to thank the staff for their monetary wedding gifts to her). And she brought back Swiss chocolates for the fourth grade staff (including me, although I belong to the 6th grade staff!).

On Tuesday after my demo class, my co-teacher took me out for dinner...

On Wednesday, I was given a gift by a grade 2 teacher...a blanket to cover my knees with, that also folds up into a little pillow!

On Thursday when I went to teach the Kindergarten class, a little girl came to give me something she made out of a milk carton. I have no idea what it is, but there was a note inside that said, (in Korean) "English teacher, I love you"


Also, on Thursday my principal and vice-principal took my co-teacher and I out for lunch to congratulate us on our demo class. We went to a tofu (here it's pronounced too-boo) restaurant. I was really touched by this because they are usually very busy and took nearly 2 hours out of their working day to spend with me.

The following day I delivered cakes to them as a 'thank you' gift.

Reciprocation is vitally important here, and gifts given in return should be of roughly the same economic value. Hence, gifts should be given according to the recipient's economic status.

Also, both hands are used when offering and receiving gifts, and they should never be opened in front of the giver – unless he/she and the recipient are good friends. When one receives a gift, it is considered polite to first resist the offer.

When signing a card or gift label, red ink is NEVER used as only deceased people's names are written in this colour.

If I go away on a trip, I should bring back a gift for my colleague as this indicates that while I was having a good time, I thought of my co-workers who were working.

In my anthropological studies, I studied an entire section on the culture of gift-giving. In society, we have three obligations. Firstly, if we are invited anywhere (to a birthday party or wedding) we are obliged to take a gift. Secondly, the recipient is obliged to reciprocate the gesture. And thirdly – we have an obligation of accepting the gift.

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