Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Why Korea?

Why Korea?

It will probably surprise most that my journey with Korean actually started out when I was on exchange in China. My university major was Chinese and my second elective language was Indonesian, a choice I made because of the proximity of Indonesia to Australia. Even in high school I studied Japanese as an elective course for 2 years and had a passing fad with J-pop.

Up until 2007 I had no experience with Korean culture or any interaction with it, embarrassingly I didn’t even know what Kimchi was, I had never met a Korean person and the only time I had heard the Korean language was by chance when I watched [My Sassy Girl] late night on Australian TV. I remember distinctly at the time at how bizarre the film seemed to me. The language sounded annoying, I didn’t understand why the main character [Jung Jihyun] father in the film was always drunk or why the main character was posing as a delivery man and carrying ‘chinese’ food in a giant metal lunchbox. In hindsight there are so many things about that movie that make utterly no sense unless you understand Korea; the language, the culture and the people. I’ll admit that watching that movie now is far less entertaining than it was when I didn’t understand.

It was in the summer of 2007 while on a year exchange program in China that I met my first Korean person, almost all of my Chinese language learning peers were Korean, so I quickly went from having never met a Korean to knowing around 50 of them in a matter of weeks. My exchange city was Dalian located on the Liaoning peninsular, and I was enrolled in a Chinese program at the Dalian University of Foreign Language (DUFL), roughly less than an hour flight from Incheon and a 15 Hour ferry from Mokpo. Because of its proximity to Korea the city and the university was and still is dominated by Korean students and Korean families who have moved to Dalian to work in Korean owned Chinese shipbuilding yards. To give you a clear idea of the amount of Koreans I was surrounded by, one day my Chinese language school posted a list of the entire student body at DUFL complete with names and nationality. Of a total student body of 800 foreign students a staggering 600 were Koreans!

To be honest I was initially a little avoidant of my Korean classmates. I had come to China to learn Chinese and bond with Chinese people but inevitably the attraction to my Korean classmates was too strong. Apart from those students from Europe or with an English background I found that Koreans were some of the easiest to befriend and share common interests. You only had to step outside on a weeknight to see hordes of Korean students drinking and eating barbecue meats – something that as an Australian I was initially attracted too. The only difference being is that the next day my Korean classmates would all be in Class at 9am on the dot, hangover and tired of course but never late. In contrast I would always just skip school citing my throbbing headache from the nights drinking as a fair excuse to miss school; I would learn in later years that my Korean peers were simply preparing themselves for the reality of corporate life.

I laugh about it now but at the time I must have looked so lazy to the Koreans in my class; I rarely studied, I went out most of the time, skipped class regularly when I was tired and I talked and joked in class even with the teacher! I was on exchange for the experience not for the lessons and it is an attitude that remains with me today. Even then it was evident to see how fixated my Korean classmates were on getting high HSK scores to help them with employment. Why were they so worried about getting a job when I didn’t care - I tried constantly to change their thinking - “Don’t worry, everyone gets a job, who cares about the stupid HSK” I would say. I had no idea of how tough and competitive the Korean job market was; nor was I aware of the ideal of a Chaebol and extreme lengths at which they go to filter potential applicants for jobs.

Eventually my interest in my Korean classmates became so strong that I decided to learn a few words. I would tutor one of my friends in English while she tutored me in Korean. I think the only word I learnt at the time was 맛있다 [Delicious], 춥다[Cold], 덥다[Hot] and 대박[Awesome] but surprisingly only understanding these few words helped me to understand through context many Korean conversations. You wouldn’t believe how often a Korean person says “ 추워[it's cold]’ ‘~맛있다[It's Delicious]’ ‘너무 더워[It's so hot]’ in one day. It’s one of the interesting and sometimes insanely annoying aspects of the Korean language. How easy it is to express ones feelings; communication is achieved easily but you have to put up with someone saying they are cold 20 times in ten minutes.

My time in China was one of the best experiences in my life and although I didn’t continue with learning Chinese it was what set me on the path to learning Korean. The friendships and bonds I made in the short 1 year period were incredibly strong and I am proud to say that I am still friends with and remain in contact with many of those friends from 7 years ago. The day I departed back to my home in Perth I remember around 10 friends came to escort me to the airport. Roughly 8 of them were Korean and I just couldn’t control myself and began crying. I am not a very emotional person but that feeling of never seeing those friends again affected me to such an extent that once I boarded the plane I had only one thought for the entire flight home – I WILL visit Korea.

Back in Australia I still had 6 months of my degree to finish. I didn’t have any aspirations to begin work straight after graduation so I privately started planning my trip to Korea to study Korean. My initial plan was to just spend a gap year to see my friends and relive the experience I had in China. The only issue was that I had already invested 4 years and a university degree into learning Chinese with the idea I would be working in some capacity between Australia and China and I needed solid reasons to essential jump across the yellow sea and justify a gap year in Korea (to have fun) rather than returning to China.

In 2009 before leaving for Korea I did some research into the Korea-Australia relationship. What I managed to find was a statistic that estimated the number of students enrolled in tertiary Korean courses in Australia at below 100 nationwide....BELOW 100! Japanese is one of the most common languages taught at high school in Australia and Chinese courses are arguably the most popular of the Asian languages at University but Korean, however, at the time was really struggling to attract students and still is today. My university even shut down its Korean program after years of low enrolments such was the lack of interest only for UWA to somewhat revive the program with limited success.

In my mind at the time it was simple, Korea is Australia's 4th largest trading partner, 3rd largest export market and 3rd largest student enrolment market but only a paltry 100 Australian students were investing time and money into learning the language and culture. This was the evidence I needed to give up what seemed as though the more lucrative Chinese market to pursue learning Korean. I don’t believe the situation is unique to Australia either and a similar lack of Interest from American, Canadian, British and European students alike means that there are significant opportunities for any students from those nationalities in Korea. The recent and popular 비정상회담[Non-Summit TV Show] is the perfect example of this. There is nothing special about the foreign presenters on that show, their careers or their intelligence. They are just everyday people who made a very smart and deliberate choice to study Korean.

I like to think that my decision to study Korean was the smartest bet in my life. Despite the rise in Korean culture awareness and rising popularity of Korean TV shows, music, food and electronics abroad there still exists this very large gap in the market for Korean speaking professionals. Despite the popularity of Korean culture increasing there will always be the Chinese and Japanese markets attracting away the majority of foreign talent interested in Asia. I have been incredibly lucky since I started learning Korean but that luck was brought about by being opportunistic.

Before travelling to Korea I actually decided to apply and was granted a Working holiday visa. Most people know that thousands of Koreans go to Australia every year on working holiday visa’s but very little know that the program is mutual; that is Australians can also travel to Korea on a working holiday visa. Of course getting a good paying part time job in Korea is impossible so the idea of a ‘working holiday’ just isn’t possible. Do they really think tourists with no Korean ability will be able to work and travel around Korea on 5000won/hour wages? I would like to see them try. Clearly this program exists with Korea to cash in on the booming Korean working holiday English market but regardless I saw it as the perfect visa for what I wanted to achieve, that is, study a bit, work a bit and just have fun.

In 2012 I was actually interviewed about my experience on the working holiday visa by the Korea Herald. At the time I was one of 23 Australians on the visa in Korea, while a staggering 15,000 Koreans were in Australia under the program. This figure probably best portrays to date the current imbalance in the Australia - Korea relationship. The working holiday visa restrictions in Korea certainly have some issues however - most notably you can't teach English under a working holiday visa, the most obvious part-time job for Australians.

With my working holiday visa ready and cash saved up from my part-time job I was all ready to travel to Korea. It was almost as an afterthought that I researched and then received a scholarship to study Korean in Korea. Through a new government foundation set up I was given $5000 AUD which I used towards my school fees. In my first year in Korea I attended Yonsei Universities Korean Language school and had what can only be described as an amazing year – I met with all of my friends I met in China, I did a homestay program, I even appeared on a few TV shows and Dramas!

However in 2010 after my visa expired and I had to return to Australia I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to return to Korea. I had a wonderful time but I was unable to find an internship or save enough money to continue the Korean language program at Yonsei. The amazing trip was over and I had to return home. It was actually a very scary time in my life, I wanted to stay in Korea but I didn’t have the resources, I didn’t want to work in Australia but I didn’t have a choice? With no other option I tried once again and re-applied for a scholarship so that I could return to Korea. Amazingly I was once again granted $5000 AUD from the Australia Korea foundation. It really was significant because without this help I would not have been able to return to Korea. With the funds and a little help from my family I returned to Seoul and moved to the cheaper Seoul National university and lived in a tiny place in Goshichon (Sillim-Dong); I couldn’t afford to live anymore in Sinchon and I was determined to make my limited money stretch out for 6 months until I found an internship opportunity.

I cold emailed and called almost every Australian business and government agency in Seoul, and it was purely luck that one day at an Australian Chamber of Commerce event that I was introduced to the trade commissioner at the Australian embassy. He was from my hometown in Australia (Perth) and he also attended the same university as me; while it might seem common to run into other Australians in Seoul it is very uncommon to run into someone from Perth, let alone from the same university. From this relationship I managed to grab an internship position with the trade section of the Australian embassy which after four months then lead me to a contract with Austrade to work at the Yeosu World Expo.  

Through the time I spent at Austrade I was able to develop good contacts and networks and I was introduced to a CFO friend of my 팀장님 (Team Leader) which eventually lead to my employment as a 신입사원 (Graduate) with a Korean company. And in Essence, I have never looked back since....

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

How To Drink Like a Korean – The Sawon’s Complete Guide to Drinking in Korea

Going out for dinner and having drinks with co-workers on a regular basis is a must in Korean corporations. This kind of informal bonding with co-workers is considered just as important as the work itself and is why Korean companies will happily foot the bill for any staff related drinking. This type of staff drinking also entails a variety of customs and etiquette. I have done my best to compile all that I know about drinking in Korea and hopefully this guide can be used by business travellers and foreigners alike. This is more than the just a basic guide and I will cover some neat tricks and tips to ensure that at your next Hoesik (회식 / Staff Drinks) you will impress all of your Korean co-workers.

The Drinks

If you are planning on going on your first trip to Korea then you better acquaint yourself with the national drink - Soju.  Soju is 16-20% liquor containing ethanol and water (Think watered down vodka) and is the staple of any Korean workers diet. What is unique about soju is that at 16-20% (new weaker varieties are 16%) alcohol it is strong enough to get you drunk in a short period of time but weak enough to enjoy with a full meal. Most likely, you and staff will go to a local Korean Barbecue joint after work or your business meeting and will be immediately served Soju and Beer.

Most companies start with a round of ‘SoMaek‘ literally Soju and Beer (Or Soju Bombs) this is a small amount of beer with a Half shot of Soju usually served in a regular sized glass. The regular sized glass would look more like a typical water glass to foreigners. Korean beer is traditionally weak, beer enthusiasts around the world will agree that Koreans are yet to make a decent drop. It’s weakness in strength and flavour resulted in office workers mixing it with soju to get the desired taste.

The Rounds

Korean staff dinners and going out in general is done in what they call “-Cha / ” or rounds. The first round for example will be the first location of the night, typically the aforementioned Korean barbecue restaurant. The first round is attended by all members and will usually last between an hour to two hours. Koreans never like to stay in one place long and by changing venues they not only refresh the members and change the menu, it also gives a chance for other members to leave quietly and make an exit. Typically at the end of the first round the group will congregate at the front of the restaurant, those who plan to leave will thank the senior members and then make their way to the closest subway / bus stop. The remaining members will then move onto Ee-Cha (Second Round).
The second round is where the typical heavy drinking is done. The first round was full of interruptions and group ‘Cheer’ ceremonies but now you are at the second round you can be a little bit more relaxed and you will no doubt be a whole lot of tipsy. Typically 2nd rounds will go to a SoolJip 술집 / Hof 호프 these are the Korean equivalent to a bar that involves a full menu of drinking snacks with large tables / booths to accommodate the group.

The third/fourth round depending on the drinking ability of the group will either be another bar or the final destination for the night – a karaoke room (노래방). Now these karaoke rooms while not explicitly allowed to serve drinks will always have beer and soju on hand. Usually they will serve you some beers with a fruit platter and some other easy to prepare snacks. The common time for a karaoke room is 1 hour and it is your chance to begin sobering up. This is the time to hit the water and get up, sing, dance and enjoy yourself. Belting out some Bon Jovi does wonders to getting the alcohol out of your system.

After Karoake is usually when most if not all the senior members are completely drunk and they will either catch a taxi or call a proxy driver  (대리운전) a service in which a paid driver comes and drives you home in your own car. As a junior member of the group you can expect for the drunk senior members to give you some cash at this point in there drunken state. This cash is for you to catch your own taxi home and ensure you didn’t have any cost incurred for the night. This is also their way of looking after the ‘junior’ members who earn less and have stayed until the end of the night as a show of loyalty and perseverance. One time a drunk customer gave me $10 US, to which I replied “I’m not American” to which he replied “It’s all the same just take it”.

Opening a Bottle

If it’s your first office drinks then it’s unlikely you will get a chance to open the soju bottle as it will already have been claimed by a low ranking staff that has begun preparing the aforementioned SoMaek for the group. However in cases that the opportunity to open the bottle arises then this how to do it like a pro. Just be aware that this is for soju only, beer is just opened the regular (boring) way.
I like to call it the Soju Swirl, Pop and Tap – first grab the bottle and proceed to SWIRL it with some force. This will create a tornado effect in the centre of the bottle – it looks pretty cool. This technique is done more by younger people. Older generations who just want to get down to drinking will simply shake the bottle a few times and begin to open it.

Now before opening you can hit the base of the soju bottle with either the palm of your hand or with your elbow, this will create a POP sound, do it as many times as you like to create the sound. After opening the bottle you can then proceed to TAP the neck of the bottle with your fingers spread.
Don’t throw away the cap – we will need that for the Games section below.
Here is a great video that shows what I am talking about.

Pouring and Receiving

In short there are three acceptable ways to hold the bottle when you pour. Firstly, if you’re pouring for your boss or an elder, you should hold it with both hands. For someone who is of a similar status as you, you can hold the bottle with your right hand and support your forearm with your left hand. Lastly, you can hold the bottle just with your right hand if it’s someone younger than you or a very close friend.

The same rules apply for holding your glass when someone is pouring for you.

It is your job to ensure the person sitting opposite you always as a full glass but as is the case in most circumstances it gets to a certain point in the night when some of the heavier drinkers will throw out etiquette and simply pour themselves a drink. Now in these cases there are a few options.
  1. Quickly grab the bottle off the person before they pour and then proceed to pour it for them with the above mentioned etiquette. Don’t be shy, they want you to take the bottle from them and pour!
  2. If you can’t reach the bottle then grab the glass and hold it for them while they pour.
  3. If you have completely missed it and they have proceeded to pour their own drink then a cute way of saying sorry is to point at the glass they have just poured and say ‘Toong! / Tung! ()’ I am not sure of the meaning but it’s used as a word that appeases the mistake of letting someone pour their own drink.
When drinking with older Korean staff and even more so with a more conservative style of company you can expect to be given an empty glass by a superior. In this situation a co-worker of high status will offer you their empty glass (not your own glass), in this case you should accept the empty glass with two hands and then proceed to receive the shot of soju and drink following the etiqueete explained below in the drinking section. Once you have finished your shot you return the glass to the senior co-worker and then proceed to pour him a shit following the etiquette outlined above. Sound complicated? Don’t worry you will get the hang of it as you may be “offered” to drink with various co-workers throughout the night (Hopefully you don’t care about sharing soju glasses!)

Expert Tip –
When pouring any drink, either Soju or beer make sure the drink label is facing away from the person drinking and covered by your preferred hand, so in the case of a right hander, your right hand will be covering the label facing away from the person you are pouring for, your left hand should be under the bottle at the base of the neck supporting as you pour.

Before handing the soju glass back to your boss or someone of high hierarchy you might want to wash out the glass with some water to 'clean' off the section your drank from. (Probably something that happened more so during MERS!)

Making ‘SoMaek’

On occasion you may want to make a round of ‘SoMaek’ for your table.  When making a round of SoMaek you forgo the above mentioned formalities and proceed to pour drinks for everyone.  To get the measurements correct there is an easy trick involved in pouring out a glass of Somaek.  To measure out the right amount of soju simply place one soju glass within another, then pour soju into the top glass until it reaches the line created by the outer glass. Pour this into the beer glass (which we described earlier as a smallish water glass), once the soju is in you can then begin to pour the beer (or vice versa) some will say that it has to be Beer then soju, others will say the opposite!   Traditionally there is no head (Foam)  at the top of a glass of SoMaek so make sure you avoid creating too much froth! Simply fill the glass with beer until ¾’s full, there should be roughly enough space to fit two thumbs between the beer line and the top of the glass. Now that you have poured out the SoMaek you can pass it around your table.

Now be aware that it is customary to drink (skull) your first drink in “One shot”.

Cheers! And Drinking

If you are drinking with your boss or someone of a higher social rank than you, it is polite to either turn away from the high ranking person or put your hand up to cover your glass while taking a drink. If you are surrounded by high ranking workers then motion to turn around and face away from the table to take your drink.

When doing a “Cheers” and clinking your glasses with other people try to do it a little lower than those around you if they are of higher status, you will notice that younger people and those of lower status at companies will make a B-line to have their glass at the bottom. It’s also not common to stare into people’s eyes when doing cheers. Also remember at this time to keep one hand underneath the glass holding forearm, similar to when you received a drink to once again show respect when doing a ‘cheers’ clink of glasses.

When doing a group cheers there are a range of different expressions and phrases that you are likely to hear.

“…Wehaiyo / …위하여
This phrase refers to toasting to a topic, for example health, company success, a co workers promotion etc. In this Korean structure the topic to be toasted is placed in front of the phrase ‘Wehaiyo’ for example to toast to our health would he ‘Konkang Wehaiyo/ 건강을 위하여” where Konkang means health. This structure is the most common used  by Korean companies and the stock cheers chant of many company worker in Korea is to simply place the Company name before ‘Wehaiyo’, eg “Samsung Wehaiyo” or “To / For Samsung!”.

Generally when you first sit down to a formal company dinner there will be a senior staff member who after the drinks are prepared (typically a round of somaek) will stand up and say a few words regarding the reason for the gathering, for example let’s say the welcoming of a new staff member. Throughout the night this process will continue and each staff member will be expected at some point to stand up and say a few words, which will then follow with a ‘Cheers’ ceremony. Now what is used for the cheers depends on the toaster and their personal preference – it’s a chance to show some creativity and or have a little fun with the topic. Most workers will stick with the common formula of toasting towards their health, or the company. When the staff member say they will do the cheers they will often give instructions on how to respond, so they will say the topic of which they are toasting for example “Samsung:” and they will then ask the other staff to respond with a rously “Wehaiyou” – this kind of formula ensures all staff say Wehaiyou at the same time, in full voice (Think of when you do a huddle break in sport). Now this can occur either standing up or sitting down depending on the location, just follow the guide of others at the time.

Fighting / 화이팅

Koreans use the word ‘fighting’ as literally “Come on” – a sort of rousing support call and has nothing to do with actual fighting. Chinese students will understand this as “JiaYou”. Now the same as above with Weihayo applies, you place the topic which you will cheer too infront of the word “Fighting” obviously this time there are some things that just won’t apply – you couldn’t use the above health example because “Health Fighting” just doesn’t make sense. Once again most workers will stick with the easy formula of saying “(Company Name) FIGHTING” . They will follow the same pattern above in Wehaiyou where the Toaster will say the Company Name and all staff will respond with the word “Fighting” while moving in to clink their glasses together.

Gunbae / 건배

Is the stock standard call of cheers and is used on it’s own in a variety of situations. Typically in large groups they will exclusively use “Wehaiyou” or “Fighting” for large collective cheers while thjey will use gunbae for more smaller groups and more reserved circumstances.  You can expect your table to have a few cheers of their own away from the entire staff dinner group. A member of the group will simply just raise their glass and say “gunbae”

Zzan /

The least formal of the phrases, Zzan is the onomatopoeia for the sound of glasses clinking together. This informal cheer is used only in casual surroundings with small groups. Just to be safe you may want to just save this phrase for when the group is really drunk and has shrunken in size or when you are out drinking with friends / other younger co-workers.

Expert Tip – So you want to make a good impression, don’t want to get too drunk and stay till the end of the drinking session? It can be tough to maintain yourself when you are force fed shot after shot luckily there are ways to avoid drinking without letting any of your co-workers know. It’s often a virtue to be considered a ‘good drinker’ and the longer you stay at the dinner/drinks the more chances you will have to bond, find out valuable information about co-workers and the business, develop good relationships with your boss and earn a good reputation. To ensure I was always there at the end to help my boss into a taxi I used to secretly spit out drinks. Now almost every Korean barbecue or soju-selling establishment in Korea will have the traditional metallic cups for water; save this tactic for later in the night but grab one of those cups and pour in a little water. Establish that you are drinking water, now after having a shot of soju it’s common for Koreans to have some Cider (Sprite) or water as a chaser. It’s simple, don’t swallow your shot of soju, immediately grab the metallic water cup and proceed to spit the soju into it while pretending to drink from it. Of course you will still have the taste in your mouth and you will need another cup of water to help you begin sobering up but I have never had any issues with this technique and it has saved me from drinking an extra 5-7shots in a session.

The Singing and Games

There are literally too many too list and to explain but luckily the internet can provide the perfect resource to explain a handful (yes 10 is only a handful) of popular games you might encounter. Note that people in the workplace or generally over the age of 30 are not likely to want to play games or part-take in the songs that follow!

Granted I'm not the biggest fan of this Youtube channel because they don't seem like they would know ALL of the games and have the greatest grasp on the language (ie - I probably know more and could explain better) but it's the best the internet has to offer until I become a complete flog and do more youtube!

Extra Tips

Drinking “Fine”

So you had an extra-long meeting and you have arrived at the hoesik a little late? No problem but be ready to consume 벌술 an abbreviation of 벌금 ; literally a ‘Drinking Fine’ – because you have arrived late and your co-workers have already been drinking for a while so now you need to ‘catchup’, that is you need to quickly reach the same level of tipsy-ness to ensure that everyone is on the same level. In my experience this ‘Fine’ was usually 3 shots at once. Now a neat trick to serving this is to place the soju glasses one on top of the other, using the flat metal chopsticks surely to be on hand at any Korean restaurant to keep each soju glass level. Once you have stacked them up one by one and they are all level then you can begin pouring. As the top glass (3rd level) begins to overflow it will fill up the glass below and then again for the bottom glass. Once it’s complete it’s time for the three shots to be drunk by the ‘offending’ late co-worker.  If you are drinking with friends or with co-workers this is a neat little trick to do and will definitely earn you some expert knowledge points as well as a reputation as a ‘good’ drinker which in Korea is more important than being a good worker.

Black Knight and Black Rose (흑기사 / 흑장미)

In Korean 흑기사 ("Black Knight"), this word would mean someone (generally a guy) who volunteers to take a drink for another person (generally a girl). For a man its 흑기사 (heuk-gi-sa, dark knight) or 흑장미 (heuk-jang-mi, black rose) for women. One can ask someone to be their black knight/rose, or someone can offer to do it, but once you’ve done it, you’re theirs for the rest of the night. If you ask someone and they refuse, then you have to take two drinks.

Paying the bill and Going home

Going-Dutch does not exist in Korea, If you are reading this article then you are more than likely to be a guest at a company dinner / meeting so relax, the bill will almost always be on the company. At the later rounds as I spoke about above then it is likely that a senior manager or other senior member will foot the bill for that round. If you are looking to entertain some important business partners then be aware of this custom; a good tip is to take care of the bill just before the announcement of moving place; fein a trip to the toilet and on the way take care of the bill. This also applies for social meetings as well with the older member of the social group likely to pay for the first round and then another member of the group for subsequent rounds. It’s all about paying it forward so don’t forget all the free meals and drinks you enjoyed when you become the senior member of a group.

Now if you are a junior member at a company then you will be expected to stay until the end of the night and part of this expectation is that you take care of your company ‘seniors’ who are likely to be blind drunk in their endeavours to  go home, this involves helping them catch a taxi or calling up ‘대리운전’ – proxy drivers for drunk people. Don’t despair though, once you have helped your manager or other senior to get in a cab then there is a chance they’ll put a 10,000won bill in your hand or pocket and tell you to catch your own taxi home, so other than your time you are unlikely to have any costs from a night out.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Weird, Wonderful and Inappropriate World of Email Handles in Corporate Korea

It's an epidemic!

Ok maybe that language is a bit strong but it is certainly a trend that needs addressing. Korean workers are guilty of choosing very odd and sometimes inappropriate work email handles. Clearly Korean companies first mistake is that they give their workers a choice of email handle, but I am very appreciative that they have given workers the freedom to make their own mistakes.

Those who have been involved with Korea before at a business or even academic level would have come across this

What's more surprising is that Korean corporate culture is itself very structured and governed by a very formal set of perceived rules and etiquette, whether it be introductions, exchanging business cards or even having a drink together there is a raft of small but very important etiquette to be observed for Korean business people.

Picture the scenario of exchanging a business card in a Korean business context- you bow and shake hands with your left hand under your right to show respect, you then receive a business card with both hands again to show respect and scan the card politely, in this instance you look down to the email and see something like "" (by the way that is a REAL example).

I've come across a raft of bizarre email handles during my time working for and with Korean companies and I have compiled a list of common trends. Now this article has been compiled with the help of some of the expat community in Korea and the below email examples are all REAL and from major Korean companies, like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kogas, Major News outlets etc. used in real business situations and emails!

If you have your own example and you would like to share please do in the comments section below!

The Childhood Nickname
"It's what my friends used to call me" is the inspiration behind this email handle and leads sometimes senior and respected business people to use the following with varying success!

Examples - (this is a university professor's handle) (Naver says it's a 'pack horse' whatever that is!) (I'm sensing an animal theme! and no it's not entourage inspired)

Thank god these people had animal nicknames as kids! If I applied the same logic to my email then you would get "" or something cool like that.

The Korean Name typed on a English Keyboard
So this one is really just lazy but i guess in a sense practical. This occurs when Koreans simply type their name in Korean and just leave the roman characters. They better hope that people keep their business cards handy because good luck memorizing these!

Examples -
김지원 (Kim Jiwon) =
박재원 (Park Jaewon) =

The Initials with Random Numbers or Sometimes Birthdays
I can relate to this email handle, my first ever email was "" and I had a legitimate reason, when i typed in in the 90s it was taken and I was given the above number as a suggestion, I was also 12 YEARS OLD! That said in Korea there are a raft of names that are popular and are fairly homogeneous so that does pose a legitimate problem for many in major corporations which share thousands of employees under the one domain name. In this instance there isn't much other option but I would still want to see a name.lastname(number) variety than the examples below.

Examples - (She is '87 baby so I'm not sure what 1940 represents!)

The direct translation of Korean name into English, or their own (self-assigned) English name.
This link says it all really -
It's basically what happens when Koreans google translate their name into English or give themselves a hilarious English name

Examples - (Not a Will Smith fan, his English name is 'Legend') (See above, replace Will Smith with Orlando Bloom)

The "WTF"
There is no rational explanation, it happened and now it's on their business card forever! I just hope they don't meet too many English natives, I just wish I could remember more of the examples!

Example - (Thanks go to @walter_foreman)

Leave your suggestions in the comments below and I will add to the article!

The List


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

나한테 회식이란 업무보다 더 스트레스를 받는 일이다.

“밥 먹으러 나갑시다” 팀장님이 선언했다.

지금부터 내 업무 시작.

회사 근처에 있는 고기집 도착한 순간부터 눈치게임이 시작된다.

일단 나는 사원으로서 어디서 앉을건지 기다리고 있었다. 외국인이지만 그나마 한국문화 잘 알기 때문에 누구나 상관 없이 돌아가서 마음대로 앉을수가 없었다. 우리 팀원들이 이사님이나 다른 상사들보다 먼저 와있는데 합리적으로 중간에 앉지않고 테이블 제일 끝에 한심하게 앉았다. 이럴때마다 뭔가 웃기다. 다들 와 있는데 한참 동안 앉는 사람이 없다. 다들 서로 보면서 ‘어디서 앉을까’ 고민하고있다. 하루종일 했던 업무보다 벌써 더 고민하게 된 일이다. 나중에 내가 운좋게 회사 임원이 되면 이런 상황 신경 쓸까? 제발 그렇게 되지마라.

드디어 누가 자리를 잡았고, 그 후 우리팀은 자리잡아 앉았다. 그리고나선 사원들이 술부터 시켰다. 몇명이 있는지 빨리 파악한 후 맥주 몇병 소주몇병 이렇게 이모한테 주문한다. '맥스' 드릴까요? '카스' 드릴까요? '참이슬' 드릴까요? '처음처럼' 드릴까요?. '다 똑같은 맛이니.. 아무거나 주세요' 라고 하고싶지만 상사들이 선호하는 소주이랑 맥주 시켜야된다. 그게 무엇인지 모른다면 문제이다. 이모가 술을 찾으러 가고나면 맥주잔이랑 소주잔들이 내 자리앞에 모이고, 나는 정리하고 있다. 첫잔이라 '소맥' 만들어야되고, '맛있게' 만들어야된다. 소맥 잘 만든다는 칭찬을 받기위해서 다들 겁나 신경쓰고있다. 생각해보면 바보 같은 자랑거리이다. 나는 일 하면서 좋은 아이디어, 보고, 발표 등 하고, 잘 되고있다는 칭찬은 없고, 소주이랑 맥주 잘 따라 주는 칭찬만을 받기 위해서 열심히 하고있다.

첫잔 나누면서 상사들의 “귀중”한 말 기다리고 있다. 매번 똑같은 의미없는 별 중요하지않은 말들이다. 뭐 뭐 어쩌 어쩌 ‘화이팅!” “위하여”, 한번만 했으면 말씀을 집중하겠지만 회식동안 열번이나 하고 일주일에 회식몇번이나 하기 때문에 상사들의 말을 무시하게 되버렸다. 그 사람들도 이렇게 하는거 싫어할까?

내가 열심히 만드는 소맥 그대로 들고 마시면 안되고 두손으로 다른 직원들 하고 ‘짠’ 해야한다. 사원이라 다른 직원들의 술잔보다 제일 밑으로 부딪치며 내 잔을 ‘짠’했다. 그후에도 그대로 마시면 안된다. 앞; 양면 어디봐도 나보다 더 높은 직급의 동료들이라 나는 몸 어렵게 돌려서 이 고기집의 안 이쁜 벽지 보면서 한잔을 했다. 첫 몇잔을 원샷하고 난 후 이제 고기 나왔다.

에휴, 또 다른 내 할 일이 생겼다. 이미 소맥 잘 만든다고 칭찬을 받았지만, 이제 나는 고기 맛있게 굽는다고 칭찬을 받아야된다. 고기 잘 굽는다는 소리 그것도 참 웃기다. 고기 굽는게 무슨 기술적인 어려운일이야? 주변에 사람들이랑 대화하기 피하고 싶어서 고기만 오버하게 잘 보고 신경쓰는척했다. 이렇게 하면서 또 다시 소맥 만들고 있었다. 10분이나 지났으나 또 다른 상사들이 의미 없는 말 할 시간이 되었다. “위하여!” 하고나선 고기 짜르는 시간이 되었다. 크게 짜를까? 작게 짜를까? 제대로 안하면 내옆에 있는 대리선배 내 가위 훔칠까봐 잘 해야된다.

벌써 소맥 몇잔이나 했는데 이대로 가면 한시간안에 말 못하도록 취하게 되버릴것이다. 그렇게 하고 집에 갈 수 있으면 좋겠지만 나는 사원이라 그것은 안된다. 그럼 이제 전략적인 술마시기 시작이다. 소주만 마신다고 내가 말하자마자 주변 동료들이 매번 똑같은 반응이다.

‘우~~ 역시 마이클 한국사람이다” 등 내게 말한다 - 그거 좋은말인지 잘 모르겠다.

누구나 아는 술 마시는 방법인데, 소주 그대로 마신척하고 삼기지않고 물잔에다가 몰래 뱉는다. 이렇게까지 하는 이유는 바로 나는 사원이라 회식 끝까지 있어야된다. 이제 이 자리 지겨워지는 분위기다. 내가 선배한테 조용하게 법인카드 달라고 하고, 조용히 계산하러 일어난다. 내일 비용처리위해 영수증 잘 챙기고 2차로 갈 것 기다린다.

1차 고기집에서 업무 끝난 후 또 다른 술집에 가서 똑같은 업무 반복이 된다. 배경이랑 술만 바뀌고 그 술집 도착할때도 앞에 있는 웃긴 ‘자리 눈치 게임’ 한다. 2차 끝난후 노래방에 가서 업무 더 해야된다. 편의점에 가서 술을 가지고; 노래방에서 얼마나 시간 필요한지 정하고, 내가 매번에 열심히 불렀던 ‘18번곡’ 부르는거까지 내 업무이다.

드디어 이 회식이 끝나면 상사들의 택시이나 대리운전까지 챙기는 업무해야된다. 취하고 피곤하고 정신이 없는데 집에가서 몇시간 자다가 다시 회사에 가고 내 책상에 시체처럼 9시부터 앉고있다. 피곤하다고 내가 회사에서 뭘 할 수 없겠지만 그것은 괜찮다. 어차피 9시부터 7-8시까지 내가 월급받는 업무 중요하지않고 내가 그후에 하는 ‘업무’ 더 신경 쓰고있고, 더 스트레스를 받는다.

나는 이런 상황에서 한국말이나 한국 문화 몰랐으면 좋겠다고 생각한다. 눈치없는 외국인하는척하는 것이 훨씬 더 편하기 때문이다.

Friday, 20 February 2015

외국인들이 지내는 한국의 설날연휴 – 나의 가장 좋은 추억

“마이클은 설날때 계획이 있나요?”

추석이나 설날때마다 많은 한국인 친구들이 나에게 물어보는 질문이다. 많은 한국인들이 이런 연휴기간에 아마 가장 많이 주변에 있는 외국인 친구들에게 물어보는 질문일것이다. 내가 한국에서 설날을 5번이나 지냈는데 매년마다 다른 경험이였다. 한국인들이 다 가족들에게 가니까 사실 외국인들 할 것 많이 없긴 하다.

외국인으로서 설날이라는 명절은 나한테 그렇게 큰 의미아니지만 한국 공휴일 중에 제일 좋아했다. 왜냐하면 설날때마다 사람들이 서울을 떠나서 지방으로 내려가는데, 그때마다 갑작스럽게 서울은 외국인의 원더랜드 되는 것이다 – 모든 가게문닫고 버스도 줄고, 택시도 없고. 보통 바쁘고 정신없는 서울거리가 갑자기 평화로워지는 것이다; 좀 재미없지만 나는 뭔가 좋아했었다.

설날에 한번은 외국인 친구들이랑 모여서 한강에서 보냈고; 한번 식중독 걸렸는데 주변에 병원들이 다 문을 닫아서, 혼자 ‘사랑의 병원’까지 걸어서 (택시/버스 없어서) 혼자 병원안에 아주 우울하게 보내본 적도 있다. 이 중에도 내가 한국에 살았을때 제일 좋은 추억 중에 하나 있다.

한국의 ‘정’ 처음으로 느꼈다.


그래 알았어. 나도안다고. 한국의 정에 대해 쓸때마다 왠지 가식적인 멘트하는 것 같은 느낌이 든다, 물론이번에도 썼으니까 악플도 있겠다. 그렇지만 이번에는 진심이다.

한국 처음왔을 때는 2009년 여름/가을이였다. 연세한국어학당 다니면서 좀 비싼편인 신촌역 근처 (그랜드마트뒤쪽)오피스텔에 거주하고 있었다. 서투른 한국말으로 인해 집주인이랑 별로 대화를 하지못했다. 온지 약 6개월 밖에 안되었는데 설날은 도대체 어떤 명절인지도 모르는 나에게 어느날 아침에 전화가 왔다. 영어가 조금 가능한 집주인의 아들이였다. 그는 “알 유 비지”물었다. 아침 7시이였나 8시이였나 기억이 안나는데 어쨌든 홍대 라이프 스타일을 즐겼던 나에게는 (전날 취했다는뜻이지) 일어나기 힘든 아침일찍인 시간이였다. 아무튼 나는 “노” 답장했다.

그랬더니 “컴 다운 스테어즈. 레츠 헤브어 브레크패스트”. 좀 이상하게 생각했지만 뭐 그냥 예의상으로 밥먹으러 내려가봤다. 집주인은 오피스텔 밑에 가족과 함께 살고있었다. 나는 샤워도 안하고 그냥 집옷 대충입고 부스스한 머리와 술냄새랑 함께 내려갔다. 집주인의 집문을 열자마자 내얼굴은 빨개졌고 당황했었다. 집주인의 가족 (3명)뿐만 아니라, 약 15명 정도 바닥에 앉아서 나를 쳐다봤다.

부끄러워서 냉큼 앉아서 조용히 있었다. 그때는 주변에 무슨 이야기했는지, 나에 대한 어떤 생각하고 있었는지 모르겠지만 나는 그냥 처먹고 있었다. 앞에 있는 밥보면서 “나는 왜 여기 있지” 멍때리고 있었다. 생각해보면 밥 빨리 먹고 나갔을때도 나는 그 분에게 고마운 마음을 전달하지못했다. 나는 그당시 어려서 그 분이 나에게 정을 베풀었지만 고맙게 생각도 못한채 그냥 부끄럽고 졸리고, 약간 귀찮게 생각했던 것 같다.

아무튼 지금 이 추억을 생각하면 나는 ‘한국정’이라는 것이 진심인것 그때 처음으로 직접적으로 느꼈다 (그 후로는 없었다는 뜻은 아니다 ㅋ).

그땐 한국이라는 나라 어떤 나라인지 잘 몰랐고, 호주에선 낮선사람에게 그렇게 신경쓰고 집초대까지 잘 안한다. 설날은 가족과 함께 보내는 명절인데, 외국인으로서 혼자있는 나를 신경써서 설날 아침식사 같이 하자고 나를 부른 집주인 아저씨. 그 집주인 아저씨와 가족에게 얼마나 고마왔는지 서투른 한국말 탓에 표현 못 했지만 혹시나 지금 읽는다면 한번 마음 깊게 감사 드리고 싶다.

독자 여러분에게 일년동안 내 블로그 글을 지원해주셔서 감사하고요

새해 복 많이 받으시고 청양해에는 소망하시는 일들이 모두 이루어지길 기원합니다.