Contrary to what we were told prior to arriving in Korea, there is no shortage coffee in this country. Korea has embraced coffee culture to its fullest extent and new cafés are springing up constantly. Since we arrived in Shinchang, at least four new cafés have opened within four blocks of us. Korea appears bent on becoming a caffeine fueled society (given the ridiculously long hours students study here, it’s only surprising that it didn’t happen sooner). But the Korean café experience is nothing like what we are used to in Canada. Oh no, not in the least. There are many differences, but here are a few that really stick out.
It’s Not 8:00 AM
If you are sitting in a Korean café, I can pretty well guarantee that it’s not 8:00 AM. Coffee is an after dinner or afternoon event in Korea. If you are planning on buying your morning coffee from a café, plan on sleeping till ten, cause that’s the earliest most of them open. Tamara and I actually travel with Starbucks Vias because we can’t rely on getting our morning jolt from a local café.
Oh my word, the selfies. Most Koreans appear to have hundreds of pictures of themselves on their phones. Based on my observations, the process appears to be as follows: enter the café and order your coffee, sit down with your friend, whip out your phone, and take twenty to thirty pictures of yourself before your coffee arrives. Note: It appears completely normal to take only one photo with your friend, if that. The exception is if you are in the café with your boyfriend. The young lady then inflicts umpteen photos on the lucky lad who is with her. Men appear to be largely stony faced for these events, likely because it would hurt to smile for that long. I think the best situation I witnessed was two of my students who happened to be in our favourite café when I arrived. After the usual response (OH! Teacher!) and brief exchange of hi, how are you, the young man put his head on the table and resumed his nap while his girlfriend draped herself over him and took another hundred and fifty photos.
I assume these numerous attempts are necessary because women apparently want to get the perfect selfie to put up as their Kakao profile. Again, based on my own observations, the perfect selfie shows barely enough of the young woman’s face for her close friends to identify her. The rest is either cut out, hidden behind a cup, covered with hands either under the chin or over the cheeks, or shielded by the peace sign. I have many theories about why this is, but the result, from my perspective, is that I have never finished a coffee in a Korean café without hearing at least one machine-gun-like explosion of that distinctive *click* made by smartphone cameras.
The photos don’t stop with the arrival of the coffee; the target just changes. Floating about in cyberspace are many, many food blogs with reviews, images, and even complete menus. I can only speculate that this is where the plethora of food pics end up, but who really knows. All I can tell you is that they are taken by the legion in cafés all across Korea. So we jumped on the bandwagon!
Few cultures do cute quite as well, or quite as often, as Korea.
Presentation is usually pretty nice at a Korean cafè.
Loudly Playing a Movie
Few things mess up a relaxing coffee faster than someone settling into the table next to you, pulling out their phone, and proceeding to play a movie at full volume sans headphones. The first time this happened, Tamara and I thought this was a one-off event. Boy were we wrong. Although it far from a regular occurrence, it has happened in our vicinity half a dozen times. In fact, I am writing this in a café and there is a movie playing three tables over as I type.
Mirrors are everywhere in Korea. Everybody seems to have one tucked away in their purse, backpack, or pocket. Cafés appear to be universal primp time (yes, guys to). Of course, phone cameras double as mirrors and everyone touches up their hair and make-up as a precursor to firing off their first selfie. I guess you never know who might walk by and see you sitting there.
Middle School Girls
Or middle schoolers in general. I am sure there are high school students mixed in there as well, but because I teach middle school, I recognize my own students constantly. In between slaving away in hagwons, they appear to flood to the coffee shops for some much needed social time (and caffeine jolt). The fact that they spend half their time taking selfies and the other half checking their appearance in their mirrors apparently only adds to the enjoyment.
The Date in the Corner
Most Korean cafès come complete with the couple on a date at the corner table. It’s possible these couples are handed out with the registration of a café style business. Either way, most of these dates appear to consist of Kakao-ing (a Korean instant message app) updates to people who are not there. At least, they seem to spend most of their time looking at their respective phones rather than talking to one another. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if you are allowed into a Korea café if you don’t have a smart phone. I think it might ruin the whole experience.
Sweet Potato Lattè
Korean’s love sweet potato everything. There is a very good reason you have never seen this particular beverage anywhere else. Enough said.
As you can see, Korean cafés are a bit of a cultural experience all their own, and I have never even been in any of the cat or dog cafés that are scattered throughout the city. I am sure I have missed a multitude of Korean café idiosyncrasies (or I am straight up wrong), so if our friends currently residing in Korea would care to weigh in, I hear that’s what the comments section is for.