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2017-10-30 17:37
By Nam Sang-so

The cabin crews of the airlines departing from Incheon International Airport seem equipped to distinguish between Chinese, Korean and Japanese passengers. They probably learned about physiognomy at aviation school, and this knowledge enables them to speak the appropriate language with passengers.

For instance, a flight attendant spoke to me in Japanese as I was reading a Japanese book, and another one spoke to me in English as I opened an English newspaper, perhaps assuming I was Korean or Japanese-American.

But the stall vendors at Namdaemun Market seem far more skilled than the cabin crews in identifying a customer’s nationality. They quite accurately converse with Japanese in Japanese and with Chinese in Chinese, as their income depends on how they treat these customers.

We are all rice-eating people after all, so one cannot be blamed when he or she makes an innocent mistake. However, although we all look alike and all eat rice, we have our own table etiquette. For instance, dining tables are mostly square or rectangular in Korea and Japan, so dishes are laid out on tables in a square or rectangular pattern. In contrast, the Chinese, however, love round tables and place dishes on the middle, atop a smaller round table attached on a circular rail with bearings. The diners turn that smaller table around to select the dishes they want. However, a commonality among the people in the three countries is that they usually do not ask another diner to pass the salt or dishes out of their reach but rather extend their arm to reach for the items, invading their neighboring diners’ table space.

The Japanese lay chopsticks horizontally on the table, while the Chinese usually place them vertically. Most Korean servers lay them vertically, but some lay them horizontally when serving sushi.

One would also notice that the size and shape of chopsticks differ between the countries. In Japan, men’s chopsticks are a bit longer than the women’s, and some restaurants serve “husband-wife” bowls for rice and soup, in which the women’s bowls are more colorfully designed but smaller than the men’s. In contrast, the Korean and Chinese do not have shorter chopsticks and smaller bowls for women, whom some people assume eat less than men.

Chinese people certainly love chopsticks made of elephant tusks. About 10 cm longer than Japanese or Korean chopsticks, these Chinese chopsticks enable diners to reach side dishes placed farther on the table. In addition, the Chinese and Korean tend to make stumpy chopsticks, while the Japanese carve them sharp at the ends so that diners can easily pick bones out of fried fish. They also carve chopsticks from discarded baseball bats (which are stained with players’ spit), which are made of ash tree wood and engraved with the team’s logo. Some 200,000 baseball bats are discarded every year in Japan, making them a fine source of chopstick material.

These three peoples in neighboring countries look identical and all write their family names in Chinese characters, but they have quite different cultures. They do have another mysterious commonality — they dislike each other and are jealous of each other’s successes. 


The writer (sangsonam@gmail.com) is a translator.    


  • 폰트크기작게
  • 폰트크기크게
  • TTS
  • 단어장
  • 기사스크립
  • SNS