Thursday, November 29, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #15: Reciprocity

This was hard to get used to at first, but I'm starting to see the beauty of Korea's culture of extreme reciprocity.  There is something helpful and community building about a cultural norm of mutual support.
At every wedding and funeral, the friends and acquaintances are usually expected to give between $50 and $100 - more if you're family.  And it's always, always cash - no shopping necessary.  We saw this boomerang in our favor at John David's first birthday party.  After being a recipient of generous gifts, I'm now much more inclined to be generous as well.
If someone helps you out, a little thank you gift is the polite response.  I recently received a set of handkerchiefs for attending a funeral in a city about an hour away.
If you go to someone's house, even for a few minutes, you never go empty handed.  People usually stop at the store to pick up some fruit or baked goods.  Sure it's a cultural obligation of sorts, but it also kind of warms the heart.
Often, especially when I'm dealing with issues inside the complex political network of KNU, I am very aware of the culture of reciprocity.  A favor paid now will "earn points" for a favor needed later.  Although there is always the danger (or the reality) of mixed motives, there also seems to be the practical result of making most people a little more generous and pliable (at least if your "account" is on the positive side).
Slowly in my eight years here, I have stopped fighting this culture of reciprocity, and I'm still learning to embrace it - albeit with my own Western twist.  It's different, but it works.

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