Miss Manners Goes To Dinner

A few basic rules of etiquette for a Korean teacher dinner: 1) No eating until the principal arrives.

Like most Korean social conventions, this is a sign of respect toward the highest ranking person in the room. Or, in this case, not in the room.

In the event that the principal is running late, the proper etiquette is to stare at each other hungrily until the most proactive teacher scoops up a side dish and doles out hasty portions to her seat mates.

Example: Korean Teacher: (spooning steaming egg onto the Foreign Guest's saucer) Bballi bballi! Foreign Guest: Bballi? Is that hurry?  Why do we have to hurry? Korean Teacher: (hoovering egg) Because the principal will be here any minute! Foreign Guest: But won't he notice the empty bowl? Korean Teacher: It's ok! We will hide it under the table.

2) Smile, especially when things are distressing.

Koreans are the masters of smiling through misfortune. Therefore, it is appropriate to beam when the waitress deposits a tray of intact, raw, baby octopi directly in front of you.

Raw squid
Raw squid

Anyway, you won't eat them raw. They get cooked over an open flame at the center of the table.  Then they're snipped into small pieces with a scissors. Then you get to eat them.

Cooked squid
Cooked squid

In doing so, you will realize that the red sauce they're boiling in is, in fact, one hundred percent hot pepper paste.

Since your water glass is about to get some urgent use, it would be good to know some drinking etiquette:

3) Fill other people's glasses. They will fill yours.

It's kind of a shot exchange. You fill and they drink, then you switch. Don't forget to use both hands on your cup and the bottle. Chances are good that everyone at the table outranks you, and this is a sign of respect.

If the principal fills your glass with anything, you drink it.  Soju, wine, beer, swamp water, it does not matter. Toss that baby back. The same is true for anything the vice principal pours. If your administrative staff like to drink, then you'll probably be drinking too. A suprising number of morning conversations between teachers start with the sentence, "I have a hangover."

Not wild about all that alcohol? Here are two tips from a native Korean teacher:

*Taking a drink and then spitting it out in the bathroom asap is considered polite as long as no one notices.

*If your glass is already full, they can't pour more into it. And water looks a lot like soju.

You can also take advantage of your special position as a foreign guest to request no alcohol.  Koreans have learned that some foreigners do not drink, and instead prefer to simply watch the mayhem unfold as their coworkers become increasingly liberated. In this case, your ritual drink pouring will be solemnly carried out with Pepsi cola.

Or so you hope. You're basically at their mercy. When the skin on your tongue is peeling off from the heat, you'll down just about anything.

Even swamp water.