Living in Korea is, on the whole, fantastic. Every day is a treat for the senses and the soul. It helps that I work in a wonderful school with great co workers and have picked up a friend or two to brighten up my days. Life is good.
Ever the optimist, I used to hold the belief that I could go into and be served food and drink in any restaurant or bar with said friends. We have found this assumption to be false. It first happened to us on Jeju Island. We were refused service. It happened again in Daegu. Most recently a female friend and I were turned away from a restaurant in Seoul. We were sober, not in a big group and very hungry! Surely we ticked all the boxes that a restaurant has for good customers. We were left wondering if there was something wrong with us.
Is it because we don’t look like we would enjoy Korean food? Do we look like misers? Is it my unbrushed hair? Do I look like I’d clean out your till? Do I smell?
Being dismissed with a shake of the head, a ‘X’ made out of the owner’s arms or even a broom sweeping you away is one thing, but being unable to fully understand why, is another. It is frustrating to say the least. Perhaps it is because the owners don’t speak English and therefore find dealing with foreigners would be too stressful. It could be the the fault of the minority of foreigners who cause trouble after a few too many, so restaurants don’t want to risk violence taking place in their establishment. Or could it be that they simply don’t like foreigners being in Korea. Korea has seen rapid change over the last fifty years, not all good. Foreigners are often linked to the dark side of modernisation.
I am in no way implying that this a regular occurence, it is rare and the number of welcoming proprieters far outnumbers those who turn us away. In Seoul for example, my friend and I walked 20m and found a heaving, atmospheric BBQ restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal. We quickly forgot all about next door’s refusal to serve us.
I simply want to know why. We are really nice, honest!