You’re having lunch with the VP (or a higher up, lucky you) but you don’t know what to do. Though you can sometimes get a pass on account of not being Korean, it’s better to know what to do and a great way to impress your coworkers. Click Here to skip to the tips. Otherwise, read on for some background information.
Management reshuffle in the office this week. The old department head is out, being sent back to the department from whence he came. The new department head was previously a 부대 (budae, one step below bujang, general manager, usually because of age) but now sits on the leather throne. This means that the team dealing with the foreigners will be down one or more members temporarily. This also means that he is now the youngest bujang but officially outranks the other bujangs. Interesting times ahead, I’m sure.
Some of us in the office have had to change desks. My new desk is farther away from the door. In a Korean office, the closest person to the door is usually at the bottom of the office pecking order.
We also have a new vice president. Usually the first formal meeting will be in the office. He (and it is always a he) will come into the office for the usual pleasantries. In this case, we had all met the new VP before because he was promoted from within the division. The second formal meeting will usually be a lunch at a mid-priced restaurant. Rarely is it dinner, because dinner has the potential to get out of hand since no one needs to go back to the office afterwards. Today’s choice was a little odd, but that might have been because we had planned to have this anyway and the VP tagged along (writing that felt weird).
This was lunch. It is dwayji gukbap (돼지국밥), a pork stew with rice. It was served in a clay pot designed to keep it hot. People I eat with always assume I don’t like Korean food because I don’t eat straight away. This is not true; I simply don’t want to burn my tongue. It amazes how some people can eat something that the cook has literally had to use a blacksmith’s tongs to remove from the fire and bring to your table. Everyone has their talent, I suppose.
I’m told this one is the best one in Dong-gu. Most people load it with Korean chili paste but I prefer to add salt; the amount of salt I add is too much, according to most Koreans I have eaten with. Anyway, the meat used did seem to be of higher quality than most other places that sell this food; it is a very popular dish in this area. Think Starbucks every few metres in Gangnam; the same goes for gukbap in Dong-gu. They also added pork skin to it because it is good for your skin (makes sense if you don’t think about it). Sides were the typical radish kimchi and cabbage kimchi; both above average for this area. One interesting extra was the julienned green chilli to add to the soup if the Korean chilli paste and Korean shrimp paste (새우젓, sae-oo jeot) isn’t enough.
- Do not sit until you are seated. It is very important to sit in the right place. The power position is at the centre of the table, not the head or foot of the table; no one sits at the head or foot of the table if there are seats available anywhere else. The highest ranking person, in this case the VP, will be sitting in the middle with the bujangs on either side and in front. The exception to this is if the VP has specifically asked for someone to sit next to or opposite him. If this is the case, then it is sometimes one of the newcomers (as a foreigner in a Korean company, you’re always the newcomer to a new VP) or a female worker of the lowest rank (and usually the youngest, too). Today I was sitting on the kid’s table as each table only accommodates four diners.
- Stand up when the VP arrives. And bow, too. I shouldn’t need to tell you to bow since you should be doing this to every person you meet for the first time. This is easier if the restaurant has chairs and tables, but either way it is something that you must do. Do not sit down until the VP sits down; he will usually tell you all to sit down.
- Do not eat until the VP eats. This is super important and goes back to the time tigers used to smoke. Apparently the rabbits ran the opium dens in those days. The problem arises when you arrive at the restaurant before the VP (this will always be the case; he
needs to make an entranceis busy). The side dishes (반찬, banchan) will already be prepared for your party because there is a person whose job it is to book these kinds of events. DO NOT TOUCH THE FOOD! Even if the VP isn’t there to see you. The last VP, when he was newly elevated, requested me at his side. He waited for an uncomfortably long time before he started eating because he wanted to see who should be the first to feel his wrath. Once the VP starts eating, then you have permission to eat.
- Drink when the VP drinks. If you are a newcomer, and remember that as a foreigner you always are, especially when people you’ve worked with for years still ask you if you can eat spicy food, the VP will give you his soju glass and pour you a drink. You take a shot and then hand it back. usually you’ll pour a drink for him and he will take a shot. Sometimes he may want to do a love shot with you, but that is a story for a future post. Today there was no drinking involved as it was lunch.
- Be grateful. As in, thank the VP for the meal and his presence. And thank the person paying. Today it was the new lead for my team.
Regarding Drink when the VP drinks, when alcohol is involved it gets a little more complicated as there are rules for these kinds of things. It is also a good opportunity for workers of different ranks to interact in a more comfortable setting. But again, future post.
After lunch, we had coffee. The VP ordered the same coffee I ordered; peppermint latte, because Xmas. I’ve noticed that every VP I’ve had coffee with always orders the same drink I order. Of course, I never order espresso in these situations because there’s a certain stereotype associated with it and it is best not to stand out from your coworkers. Though paradoxically, I will always stand out.
So there you have it. Now go forth and conquer those company power lunches!