Many years ago, soon after arriving in Korea for the first time, my good friend, Soon Chul, made a suggestion that I have long since taken to heart. I could do something simple but important, he said, to show Koreans that I both understood and respected their culture. "Steve, when someone does something for you, if you get good service in a restaurant,” for example, he said, “tell that person that you appreciate them, say ‘’" (in Korean, ).
I wasted no time putting my new expression to good use. I used it in restaurants, when my Korean teachers taught me a lesson that was helpful, or when a person at some government office or bank provided me with good service. You get the idea. I can say, without exaggeration, that in return, I’ve received an appreciative smile more than 95% of the time.
Importantly, in the Korean culture, and in most of Asia, tipping is not customary. For me, this took some getting used to. In the States for example, if you told your waitperson that you both appreciated the food and service, and then proceeded not to leave a tip, you generally would be looked at with daggers. Most restaurant wait staff expect a tip equal to 15-20% of the bill--even more with large parties. Here in Korea, a customer never leaves a monetary tip. Tourists and recent expats are often gently reproached when they unknowingly do so.
|Saying "we appreciate your hard work," in Korean, always induces a smile|
While “” is used often and most Koreans don't place existential meaning in it, it is nevertheless, expressed genuinely and sometimes from the heart. The person providing the service is reminded that they have done a good job in the customer's eyes—that they have worked hard--and that you recognize and appreciate their efforts.
These days I have to remind my Korean friends traveling to the U.S. or Canada that leaving a tip is expected. They may not fully understand that wait people, at least in the States, are often paid less than the local minimum wage. These hard working folks rely on tips as the mainstay of their income. Simply saying "thanks" and "we're appreciative of your efforts" won't pay the daycare or heating bills.
Meanwhile, back here in Korea, if a foreigner unwittingly leaves a tip on a restaurant table for the waiter or waitress, they are likely to soon encounter the person running down the street after them. "Excuse me, you left your money behind," is likely to be the refrain.
My old friend was right. Those few words have held a world of meaning for me. While my pronunciation may be off a bit, the meaning is never lost on Koreans.