In Korean culture, it is tradition to hold a housewarming party when one has moved (Jipdeuli /집들이). The expats adopted this tradition and have invited their team members once they’ve settled into their new homes. Team sizes vary from as small as 4 to more than 24, and Chris’s is one of the larger at 18. We held our party on July 4 since had we been in the States, we would have been doing something with friends. And we had a typical American cookout with bratwurst, hotdogs, homemade potato salad, homemade baked beans, a coleslaw salad, watermelon, brownies, and ice cream. And beer. And Soju. Lots of beer and Soju.
We held the party on a weeknight because there are a few team members who travel to Seoul every weekend. They have families there – including spouses and children. I don’t know how I would manage being around my spouse only 48 hours per week. The drive itself is fairly arduous because so many Koreans travel to Seoul on the weekend, and those who don’t travel there already live there. The traffic is very heavy. I traveled that way from here on a Tuesday morning, and the traffic was an issue at a couple points. This is a very populated country with not a lot of land mass. Other team members go elsewhere to be with family, so a weeknight seemed to be the best option.
Another tradition here is to bring a gift when invited to someone’s home – especially when attending a housewarming. We would have liked to say no gifts, but I think that would be insulting. Common presents are toilet paper and dish and laundry soap as those items were real luxuries for many years. However, Chris’s team is pretty young. They brought us a gorgeous plant that signifies fortune. They also brought us a mug and tumbler, some wine, and a gorgeous rice cake from a bakery.
We played some games as was suggested by others. In the States, they probably would not have gone over very well but were a huge success here.
We also had a “White Elephant” kind of gift exchange, which was very foreign to the guests. Opening gifts in front of others is unusual as well as stealing them, but they seemed to have fun with it. Chris was very proud of developing a beer pong game with a Roomba. He also substituted Soju shots. Soju is made in South Korea and is a very strong rice-based alcohol beverage that varies from 16-50% alcohol by volume.
The best part of the evening for me was just interacting. Koreans seem to be very curious and direct. They are kind and generous and funny. Unlike Americans, though, they seem much more interested in listening than talking. They ask questions – sometimes somewhat philosophical questions – and listen for your answer. They will also tell you that you need to get more exercise or lose weight without hesitation. And it isn’t at all offensive. It’s very matter-of-fact and kind of cracks me up. Someone told us you could feel insulted on a daily basis if you let yourself, but none of it is meant to offend. I like it. Nothing has ever seemed to be about being “better looking” but, instead, about being healthier. I did get a little defensive regarding my dogs though. A. Molly is not overweight. And B. Both of them are ancient. I want to see how active Mr. Lee is when he’s 98 years old!
Regarding the dogs, they are considered large here. And they aren’t used to being around 20 people in their home. They did great though, and none of the team seemed uncomfortable after the initial introductions. I hope someone in the group decides they’ll be willing to dog-sit in the future so we can go away for a weekend. They can stay at the house, and we’ll pay them. We’re just a short bike ride or bus ride from the office, and most of the team members live in a company dorm on the weekdays. It would probably be nice to get away.