Hey, guys! Jen here! My first post about living in Korea. And since it’s my first time posting, I decided to write about my very first…housewarming and sleepover. Hee.
Yup. I’ve been living in Korea since 2014 but this was my very first housewarming party and sleepover I’ve been to since I first moved here. Why did it take me so long?
Well, for the housewarming, it really does need a person who just moved into their own place recently. I came here as a college student so obviously, the people I first had the opportunity to meet weren’t really buying up apartments. In fact, many Koreans continue to live with their parents after they graduate, some even after they find a job and fully capable of taking care of themselves. This is a dwindling as more and more young Koreans would rather be independent and on their own rather than taking care of their parents. But just remember, it’s not weird to be 24 years old and still have your umma cooking your breakfast. In fact, the only sure way of knowing they are fully adulting and living in their own place is if they are married – and even then, there may be a parent in there, being taken care of by their dutiful children.
So anyways, those in my age bracket weren’t really at that place where they were finding jobs and asserting their place in the world. In fact, this friend – the one who had the housewarming – I didn’t even meet until late last year. She lived in Seoul then but then found a job at another international school in Bundang – a rather ritzy part juuuuuust outside of Seoul (like 20 minutes) and naturally got a new place there. And naturally, she needed to have a housewarming. And naturally I was invited (cuz the party don’t start til I walk in )
Now before you go “Oh, pffft, I know what a housewarming is” let me pause you right there. Housewarming in Korea is very different from those in the states (not sure how they do it in other places. Sorry). In America, housewarming is more for the host: it gives them a chance to show off their home while also subtly beg the guests to help out by bringing gifts that will help them settle into said home. Gifts like home decor items, food stuff, and even cleaning supplies are given and much appreciated.
In Korea, however, it is more about the guests. That means, you don’t invite anyone over until you have your furniture set up, all your pieces put together, and good silverware to serve the guests with. And don’t expect anyone to bring food: that is all on the host. In Korea, it’s considered bad form to not have any goodies to share with guests, and if you’re having a party, you better buy and prepare everything. My friend is from America as well but she was determined to do everything as Korean as possible. She got the samgyeupsal (sliced pork for grilling), the kimchi (the only veggies I willfully eat), and the alcohol (also a must). She even got an electric home-grill to cook the meat (also very common and very useful).
Another common and useful Korean item to have are low tables, or takja (“탁자” – table). Elaborate and separate dining rooms are things of the wealthy Koreans – just like dryers, ovens, and bathtubs – so people usually eat in the kitchen with a small table to eat on. This means that not only is the table not big enough to fit all those people but it’s also kind of insulting to have them eat on it – like, you can’t have your guests eat in the kitchen.
So the must-have item for pretty much every Korean (or those living long-term in Korea) is a low table. These are usually wooden and have collapsible legs which you can tuck in for easy storage when not in use. My waesukmo (‘외숙모’-maternal aunt by marriage) has one as well and she whips it out every seollal (설날- New Years) to serve the food on. You set it up in the sitting room area and just bring the food over. It’s just a convenient item to have when you have more guests then your chairs allow and it’s more comfortable for you and the guests. Cushions are also common but these are more optional: Koreans have no problem sitting on the floor and for those who must, there’s always furniture nearby to make them comfortable (usually a couch or bed).
Now, of course, being a party, the most important question – what do you bring as a gift to a Korean housewarming?
Koreans are very particular about gifts – there are certain items which may or may not be appropriate depending on your age, gender, and relationship to the host. Sometimes, it’s even considered rude to bring a gift. Luckily, that’s not so in cases of housewarming. Gifts are appreciated – just depends on what kind.
My first advice is, when in doubt, go with flowers. I’m serious. You can never go wrong with a bouquet of flowers. No matter the occasion or your relationship, flowers will always be appreciated. And Koreans don’t really have pollen allergies so you don’t have to worry about that.
To tell you just how okay flower bouquets are, I’m gonna tell you about a scene in the Korean film, My Love, My Bride where the newly wedded husband’s ex-girlfriend comes by for a post-dinner meal at the house with a bouquet of flowers. Now, if a hussy with a motive that has no business there can seem polite with a bouquet of flowers, then gosh darnit, so can you!
Another common gift item are medicine packs, particularly the good stuff, such as ginseng. You can never go wrong with these especially if there’s an over-30 somewhere in the house. These are also expensive but see it as a good investment if you plan to go into a long-term relationship (of any kind, really) with said person. You will always be remembered as the blessed one who was generous and kind-hearted enough to think of someone’s health. That goes a long way in Korean society.
Now, me, being a poor college student, and the host, being a basic white girl, meant I didn’t have to think too elaborately for my gift. So I actually got her a typical American gift – well, American in a sense that it’s a common gift idea in America. I got her a bunch of cleaning supplies and stuffed them all into a pretty trash can. But, of course, being in Korea meant all the items I got were from Daiso (the Korean dollar-tree basically) about a 10 minute walk from where I live.*Just FYI: do NOT think this is an appropriate gift for a Korean if you ever get invited to a common Korean household. A gift like this could actually seem very crude and insulting, not to mention it makes you look cheap – three things Koreans do not appreciate).
After that, it was as simple as finding the place, going in, helping her clean up, and enjoying all the meat, rice, and kimchi she prepared. Unfortunately, most of the guests had to leave before we could really dig into the alcohol but nonetheless, we had a very good time.I would say the first housewarming I went to was fun. We had some good talks and good food – I mean, really what more do you need?
Since I lived over an hour away from where my friend lived, and since I refused to be that person who has to rush to catch the last train, I chose to sleepover. Here’s a tip: the subway in Seoul ends earlier on the weekends. That means either you plan to leave early or make necessary arrangements if you can’t. An hour cab ride would cost a good 15 to 20,000 won (about 15-20 USD) so be prepared.
Overall, it was a fun night. And it being Saturday with school barely started thus our lives filled with no (t too many) worries, it was a chill, relaxed evening of fun. My only regret is we couldn’t play the card games my friend prepared – she’d gotten a pack of Drunk, Stoned, and Stupid – but that’s okay. There’s always next time. 😉