50,000 WON GIFTS
In my last post I wrote about the new anti-corruption law – Kim Young Ran Act – which is shaking the nation. The 3-5-10 rule states that no more that 30,000 won can be spent on wining and dining anyone working in government related jobs, teaching, or the media. No more than 50,000 won can be spent on a gift, and 100,000 won is the limit for money given at special occasions. In this post I’ll look at gift-giving which now has a limit of 50,000 won.
It might look suspicious to give, say, a government official an expensive present out of the blue. But there are times of the year when gift-giving is a must – even rude to neglect. Over the Korean New Year and Thanksgiving, gifts have to be exchanged between families and friends and of course business associates. So these are the times of year that sneaky gifts with ‘strings attached’ can seem legitimate. After all, the gift-giver has to consider what looks generous, appropriate, mildly disappointing, or simply downright stingy. And the receivers will feel snubbed if the present is not within the price range they were expecting!
And the expected price ranges only get higher and higher!
So with no upper limit on price, luxury gift sets that cost an arm and a leg have been a common sight at department stores. I wonder what the shops will look like this coming new year now that the limit is 50,000 won! People may even avoid buying perfectly innocent gifts to avoid arousing suspicion and the attention of the ranparazzi – the people who try to catch law-breakers and claim a reward. I wrote more about the ranparazzi last time.
SPECIAL DAYS OF THE YEAR FOR GIFT-GIVING
NEW YEAR & THANKSGIVING
Clients can expect a range of luxury gifts from companies. Food is popular – fresh abalone, Korean beef, or perhaps some dried yellow corvina fish worth over 3 million won!
Employees get more modest gifts. During New Year and Thanksgiving the subway is always full of people in suits carrying boxes of spam.
I asked one of my business students if he would be pleased to get Spam as a gift and he said yes, because it’s a useful food to have in the cupboard since he lives alone and it’s ‘easy to pop a few slices of Spam into some kimchi chige stew’. Fair enough.
I’ve been given sets of sesame oil with spam and tuna, and sometimes wine. Mr Kim usually comes home with a set of shampoo, toothpaste, and bodywash.
I think this new law is good news for Spam. Because these modest gifts remain within the law. (Although even Spam can be made into luxury Chuseok gift sets). Apparently Koreans eat the most Spam in the world (after the USA) but now maybe EVEN MORE Spam will be sold every year? Here’s some more info on Spam in Korea.
On the day that the law came into effect, the police got a phone call from an informer saying that he had seen a teacher accepting a can of coffee (I guess one of those you get from vending machines) from a student.
The informer was told that the office only accepted complaints in writing and the caller would also have to give his ID. He didn’t do this and so the matter was dropped.
That’s because the rule about gift-giving is even stricter for teachers. They don’t even fall into the 50,000 won limit.
NO gifts can be given to teachers. At all. Regardless of price.
Looks like this law is being taken seriously.
On certain days of the year, such as Teachers’ Day, May 15, it’s been the custom for parents in elementary school to give home room teachers money in exchange for the teacher ‘looking after’ their child. Perhaps the parents hope that an expensive gift will encourage the teacher to give their child a better grade.
And in high school the teachers are important in helping students get into university. University professors have also been used to getting gifts and dinner invitations. But this all has to change.
Some schools have put up signs explaining that they are now unable to accept gifts of any kind, including drinks.
I’m sure many parents are relieved that they don’t have to feel pressure to choose a gift for a teacher. The rich areas like Gangnam can create a real problem for mums and dads. I’ve heard of elementary school teachers who look disappointed when they are given a gift – even expensive wine – because they are so used to getting even more expensive presents. And so when the parents see the expression on the teacher’s face, they start to worry that their child will get left behind because other parents were more generous!
I agree that this should not be the case.
JEONG IS DISAPPEARING?
Now, not even flowers are acceptable to give the teacher on Teachers’ Day unless they are paper flowers – not real ones. It’s going to be a quiet Teachers’ Day next year. In the past, teachers even had to give away lots of the presents they received to their friends and family as they couldn’t use everything themselves. That won’t be the case next year!
But some people are worried that these strict rules about gift giving will mean that the Korean jeong will disappear.
There are times that people simply want to show gratitude to a teacher. And they want to show their appreciation through a small gift. There are no ulterior motives – just an innocent expression of thanks and appreciation. jeong.
But that, it seems, is no longer possible. Even the small gesture of a carton of juice is not acceptable.
Although I guess the main aim of this new law is to stop major bribery, it affects pretty much everyone in some way. On the one hand people worry that relationships will be negatively affected because there has to be a colder, more business-like approach to relationships, and fewer opportunities to express jeong.
But on the other hand it also makes life easier. Certainly financially. I think we can wave goodbye to many of the ridiculously expensive gift sets that people have felt pressured into buying, and say hello to more frugal times.
I think this is a good thing.
We shouldn’t have to feel that gift-giving is necessary just to maintain a relationship and keep up with everyone else. That’s like a heroin addict who needs to take the drug just to feel ‘normal’.
The rule is strict but perhaps it needs to be like that at first so that everyone gets the message. Perhaps adjustments will be made as time goes by. Because surely nobody should be arrested for accepting a can of coffee.