I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day – I refuse to be drawn into this commercial event (Mr Kim gets NOTHING – bah humbug But that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy wandering around the pink and strawberry themed extravaganza in the departments stores and bakeries at this time of year…
I wonder how I would deal with February 14th if I were a Korean lady though, since this is the day that only the ladies are supposed to give chocolate to the men in their lives. The shops say you have to buy chocolate for all men not just boyfriends, but coworkers too. It’s a kind of duty. So should I feel guilty if I don’t take part?
As a young teen, I would wake up on Feb 14th with mixed emotions. Excited to see if I had any secret admirers sending me Valentine’s Day cards, but at the same time pretty convinced that the postman would disappointment me. Then I had to go into school ready for the dreaded question – so how many Valentine cards did you get then? It was only the popular kids who got cards – usually the cool naughty boy in the class got the most.
I sent a card once when I was 14 (as you do) to an older boy at my school. It was a huge card which I sprayed with cheap perfume (encouraged by my friend) and sent to him in the post. I didn’t sign the card of course and he didn’t know who I was anyway since we had never spoken. But when I saw him around, I would look at him as if to see if he noticed me or looked different in some way. He didn’t look any different.
But at least this was all done anonymously. It was just a bit of fun. I bet he was pleased to get a card even if it did stink. And I had the choice of whether to send something or not. Here everything has to be done face to face. No wonder the chocolate given is often simply out of duty and not romantic at all.
Once in an actual relationship though in my youth, I felt pressurised into buying gifts or doing something on Valentine’s Day. But that was like a duty too. I remember the first present I got from a boyfriend – a single red rose and a Garfield cuddly toy. (well it was the 80’s 😉 )
For the ladies in a relationship here, there are LOTS of cakes and chocolates to splash out on. Valentine’s Day cakes aren’t cheap – large cream cakes can cost over 40,000 won.
This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday so I’m betting Seoul Tower will be HEAVING this weekend, since that is one of the top dating destinations for young couples in Seoul.
I would feel uncomfortable (and annoyed) at being expected to buy chocolate for my coworkers on Valentine’s Day. (It’s like ‘giri choco – duty chocolate – in Japan) Apparently the popular guys in the office get the most chocolate, so that’s no different from my schooldays. The only difference is they know exactly who they got it from! Which is useful since next month on March 14th (White Day) the men have to return the favour and buy the ladies gifts in return.
It’s a brilliant marketing strategy by the confectionary retailers. And it’s been so successful that these ‘special occassions’ are growing and growing. Pepero Day (November 11th) is another day when people are encouraged to buy each other PEPERO. We can’t buy any old confectionary. We have to buy Pepero – the long, thin, chocolate covered sticks. The supermarkets and convenience stores are piled so high with Pepero that I am almost tempted to buy some for my students. That’s the amazing power of their marketing strategy.
Wandering around the bakery, I was struck by how feminine everything is. Even though the gifts are supposed to be for men! I suppose it’s because it’s the ladies that are choosing the cakes and chocolate so the products all look so female focussed.
As well as Pepero Day there are lots of other romantic days throughout the year. In fact The 14th of every month is a special day in Korea The 14th March is White Day when men have to buy chocolate for ladies. But it’s not just confectionary makers that can make money from romance, the restaurants are at it too.
Italian restaurants are packed on romantic days so they don’t need to set up their own special days. But other restaurants are not busy at all on these days as kimchi chige or stir fried spicy octopus are not ‘romantic’. So what can the unromantic restaurants do? Chinese restaurants have come up with Black Day ‘celebrated’ on April 14th. That’s when single people who didn’t get any chocolate are encouraged to drown their sorrows in a bowl of Chinese noodles, jajangmyeon!
But back to Valentine’s Day. If I were a Korean lady, who would I give chocolate to? I think it’s just another thing to worry about. Like going on a business trip and having to decide who to bring back souvenirs for. One of my students goes on lots of business trips and refuses to buy any of his coworkers souvenirs. This upsets some of them but I don’t blame him for doing that. What a pain. And I agree. It’s best and fair not to buy anyone anything!
Of course it’s not just Valentine Day cake on sale in the bakery. They still have the regular baked goods too. Doughnuts, glutinous doughnuts, ‘hotdogs’ sweet potato flans and pizza slices. And they all look pretty good!
And I don’t object to buying these. So I think I’ll just stick to ordinary pastries even if it is Valentine’s Day. 😉