korean dinner etiquette
June 28, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Invited to a Korean household for dinner, what do I bring?

If I were in Korea, what would be the polite/mannerly type of thing to bring as a small thanks-for-having-me gift?
Super-extra-bonus points for confirming pronunciation of my friend's name: SeonHye (fem).
posted by tamarack to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Fruit. Koreans bring each other abundant quantities of fruit, which are eaten for dessert. I can't tell you how many times my mother has been given an entire carton of fruit by one of her friends, only to turn around and give two thirds of it away to other friends.

My guess on the name pronunciation, based only on the transliteration, would be something like See-yown-hee.
posted by brina at 8:48 AM on June 28, 2009

Beer. Salty snacks such as chips, pretzels.

2nding See-yown-hee
posted by KokuRyu at 9:00 AM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: Seconding fruit. Asian pears and oranges are popular gift fruits among Koreans.
posted by ignignokt at 9:05 AM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: I don't think the name has 3 syllables. It's just a first name. In hangul it'd be 선혜 (requires korean font).

Seon sounds like a hybrid of Sun and the O sound from like ovulate. Hye would just sound like "hey". You could get away with saying "Sun hey."
posted by liquoredonlife at 9:24 AM on June 28, 2009

Second liquoredonlife; most Korean first names are only two syllables. Although transliteration can vary, typically "eo" refers to this vowel sound. "U" as in "uh" is a decent approximation, and I've often seen Koreans transliterate it that way as well, e.g. "jajangmyun."
posted by pravit at 11:15 AM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: Bring fruit - asian pears are starting to get good about now. Bring an entire box of a half dozen.

The name is suhn-heh, equal emphasis on both syllables.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:53 AM on June 28, 2009

Not sure about bringing something tangible, but the Koreans I've met seemed pleased when I greeted them with "Anyung Haseo" (ON-yung HAW-say-oh). If there are elderly people present, though, it might be better to go with "Anyung ha shimnikka," which is more formal.
posted by Rykey at 11:55 AM on June 28, 2009

liquoredonlife and pravit have it: the eo is misleading but it's the result of official romanization from the government in 1990 which got rid of the even more confusing McCune-Reischauer system which depended on diacritical marks. (Apparently there are talks to overhaul it yet again.)

Do not say see-yown; it's nearly incomprehensible and will garner giggles. It's just like the English word sun with a much softer 's' -- trying dropping your jaw a bit more while saying it. And, yes, liquoredonlife has it again -- it's hae, not hee. The first two commentors couldn't be more wrong (though brina's suggestion of fruit is spot-on).
posted by war wrath of wraith at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2009

Just want to nth the pronunciation as "sun-hae" and the advice to bring fruit. Other gourmet-type edibles are not bad alternatives.
posted by Rora at 12:15 PM on June 28, 2009

Fruit, especially if you're visiting a family. Try to take fruit that is in season, if you can.

I find it interesting people are focusing on how 'Seon' is pronounced - I would think 'Hye' would be trickier. It's not really 'Hee' or 'Heh' - it's 'Hee + eh' but said as one syllable. 'Heh' is probably the closest if you're not used to Korean vowel sounds.

Beer and salty snacks as a gift only works if you're a single guy visiting another single guy.
posted by needled at 12:48 PM on June 28, 2009

I suppose the way I spelled it out is actually pretty different from the way I imagined it in my head. (I thought I should revise it to make it two syllables, but I couldn't figure out how to spell that phonetically.)
posted by brina at 2:27 PM on June 28, 2009

Also, when you're leaving, say, "Ahn-young-hee-g/kah-say-oh." Someone else spell that out for me? They will say, "Ahn-young-hee-g/kay-say-oh" first.
posted by brina at 2:30 PM on June 28, 2009

it's actually the other way around from brina's advice (the latter means something like, "stay well" while the former is along the lines of "go well")
posted by peachfuzz at 4:19 PM on June 28, 2009

i'd also opt for fruit or a cake from a nice bakery. have fun!
posted by jus7brea7he at 6:03 PM on June 28, 2009

I've heard from Koreans here in Hawaii that Spam is considered a good gift, and in South Korea it's possible to purchase gift boxes of Spam. The thing is, I don't know if this is a gift that people who know each other well give to one another, or if it's something a subordinate gives to a superior to curry favor, or what...just the idea of giving Spam as a gift is entertaining.
posted by motown missile at 12:23 AM on June 29, 2009

The name is almost definitely definitely 선혜--"Sun Hay" (Okay, the second syllable is technically more like "hyae," but in use it's basically "hay" or "hae"). There's no Korean name that sounds like "See-yown-hee."

"Oe" is the current official Romanization of the vowel "ㅓ" which sounds like the "u" in "butt," more or less (a little more round and "o"-ish, if you want to go for broke).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:51 AM on June 29, 2009

Oh, and fruit is the right call--unless it's a housewarming, in which case bring a bulk pack of paper towels or TP :)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:52 AM on June 29, 2009

Er, Spam being a good gift was last true in, I don't know, the 1970's? Younger educated Koreans now would find it a rather insulting gift, actually.

One thing to bear in mind, as with most immigrant communities, is that there is a cultural gap between Koreans in Korea and Korean-Americans. This gap is wider the earlier the person emigrated from Korea. Korean culture (e.g. customs and mores) for them stayed frozen at the point in time they left Korea, while Korea itself moved on.

Another point is that "Koreans" are not a monolithic group with identical practices and customs. As with any other society, there are differences related to socio-economic class. This is trickier terrain to navigate.

So, anyway, if you want to play it safe Spam is not a good gift.
posted by needled at 4:09 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fruit is a safe choice. If there are any whisky fans in the household then a nice bottle of Johnnie Walker or brandy is good.
posted by rq at 4:18 PM on June 29, 2009

I would refrain from trying to say any Korean unless you're fluent. Some may find it cute, but to me it's just tacky.
posted by rq at 4:19 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the fruit suggestions -- that's really helpful!

I think I might be even more lost now on the name pronunciation ;) All I know for sure is I've been saying it wrong, and I think my friend is just too polite to correct me. Sun hey/heh seems like it might be right. I think I've been partly confused by other non-Koreans calling her Shay-on, kind of like an elongated verison of Sean/Shawn.

I'll just have to hope a box of apple-pears makes up for it!
posted by tamarack at 4:51 PM on June 30, 2009

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