In South Korea convenience stores offer all kinds of little deals like buy-one-get-one-free (“1+1!”) or a little bag of peanuts if you buy the right kind of soda or beer.  The practice is known as “service,” pronounced “suh-bi-su.”

So there’s this thing where you pop into Family Mart for a Coke Zero (I know, I know, soda is bad for you but it’s also DELICIOUS) and you miss the little sign saying it’s 1+1 or a free little bag of peanuts or some such, and the clerk starts to sweat because you’re a six-foot tall foreigner and she can’t explain to you that YOU CANNOT LEAVE THIS STORE UNTIL YOU GO BACK AND GET ANOTHER COKE ZERO AND/OR LITTLE BAG OF PEANUTS, and there’s other people in line behind you embarrassed by your utter foreigner-ness, and jesus fuck I should have just bought a bottle of water instead because now I’ve ruined Christmas for everybody.

Yeah, I fucking hate that.

More seriously, it’s a definite moment where Korean and Western ideas about customer service kind of collide and explode.  Really, I appreciate a smile and there’s nothing wrong with free peanuts, but ultimately I just want to get in and get out and let our little moment of capitalism expire and be forgotten.

Sometimes here in Korea though, it turns into a much bigger production than it needs to be and frankly, there’s an undercurrent of control that I really can’t stand.  Something that should be “free” and/or make you feel a little better about your day turns into an exercise in following the goddamn rules, and if you ignore them rules by god you’re an awful person for not wanting the fucking peanuts.

I’ve actually gotten into the habit of never buying any “service” items because honestly, I don’t need to search for that little can of grape juice or that little bag of peanuts that I’m entitled to.  In fact, if I wanted that little can of grape juice or that little bag of peanuts I’d — gasp! — buy a little can of grape juice or that little bag of peanuts.

So yeah, I’m complaining about Korea again.  Feel free to ignore.

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One Response to Suh-bi-su

  1. I never had a problem like the “1 + 1” issues you’ve described, eccept ai often resisted the inclination to say ‘I don’t drink soda, I’m sorry; do you hapoen to have a healthy alternative?’ You know, because choices.are rarely an option , in South Korea–where choices often are in the West.

    HOWEVER, I will say that I totally understand you, bcause what I think you are releasing is the expression and emotion that comes at one of those ‘I can’t take it any more moments’, that occurs after the fourth or fifth episode of culture shock, or a slight that hits the foreigner without fail–beginning almost moments after leaving the refuge of his lidgings, there. Though there arr peoole and things in Korea that I miss, I sympathizr with peoole still there. The pleasures–I’m sorry to say–frankly, were far out-numbered by the displeasures of living there. I loved the country and the people–for their merits, but the cacophany, everywhere–the thin-skinned natures, the racism, xenophobia, machismo, religious intolerance, copy-cat-ism, ubiquitous dihonesty, trickery, gross lack of character, moral cowardice, single and narrow-mindedness–with, almost constant regularity, and the ubiquitous pollution, nearly drove me mad. And no one can say I didn’t try. I literally saved lives there, several times, and stayed fifteen years, trying with all my mind, my heart and my soul to Iike it. In the end, I gave, gave, gave, and sacrificed, sacrificed, and sacrificed–and came away, cheated, lied to, ripped off, and heart-broken, multiple times.

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