Birthday Parties and Family Restaurants in Seoul - 47

It is interesting to compare the way in which Birthday parties are celebrated in Korea with other countries. A popular way in the UK to celebrate one’s birthday, if you are over eighteen years old, can for example be in a pub with friends and many drinks. The birthday person would quite often get a birthday drink from each friend, thus the birthday person Korean birthday partycan walk away at the end of the night without having spent any money.

Western style restaurants (family restaurants in Konglish), are popularly used by Koreans of teenage and twenty something’s to celebrate their birthday. Eating American style food inan eatery such as Bennigan’s, Pizza Hut or Outback Steakhouse is very common. In Korea these places are seen as special places to go for birthdays. In Korea, the birthday person also often pays for the cost of everyone’s food. Over the course of a full year, it works out the same in money terms whether you use the Korean or western style system for payment, i.e. you can pay once for everyone as in Korea, or you can pay many times for one drink on each persons birthday.

The difference in philosophy is that you can use your birthday to show your appreciation to your friends (in the Korean style) or your friends can show their appreciation for you (Western style). The mention of money and costs does not mean that cost is important when it comes to who pays at a birthday, but it does help to reflect the differences in culture.

I have to be careful as I write, when I use the word Western. With the huge influence in the past of America, with American forces playing a strong role in Korean military defence, the word Western seems to be used sometimes to also mean American. In many discussions about food, many students classed Western food as meaning American food. I am sure that many French, Italian and many other European countries would take issue with this. Some very highly educated students classified burgers and fries for example as being Western food. It would be similar perhaps to classifying Thai food and Korean food as being the same.

In reality, fast food is at least as popular with young people in Seoul, as in countries such as Italy or France or England. The poor Koreans are also suffering from the fast food invasion and Koreans are said to be getting fatter these days. With the way long hours that Koreans study in schools and also work (often until 10pm) fast food can fill the void. Korean life, in this way, is perfectly set for fast food. When I only have 30 minute breaks at work myself in Korea, I also sometimes went and bought a KFC next door, to save time. At the time of writing incidentally, the BBC website reports that, as a result of the bird flu virus in SE Asia, KFC’s in Thailand are now changed to Kentucky Fried Fish for the short term future, as demand for chicken drops suddenly.

With the invasion of many American food franchises such as Burger King, McDonald’s KFC, Star Bucks, Basket Robbins and Subway Sandwiches opening in recent years in Korea, it is perhaps not surprising that statistics now in Korea show that kids are getting more obese in Korea. This also seems to be in part due to the emphasis on studying, particularly for the university entrance exam, rather than on fitness. Such is the pressure on youngsters these days to do well in school, that staying in the library to study and missing the fitness/sports classes is common. Studying in many situations can take up the core of a student’s day, leaving little time for playing sports with friends in the afternoon or evening.


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