Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Tipping and Reverse Culture Shock

The "reverse culture shock" of returning to America hasn't been so bad. A few things bug me, like the amount of trash that is produced for my family of three in America compared to the trash produced by me and the boyfriend in Korea. And we do recycle everything we can here, and yet, the huge trash can is full every few days where as the tiny trash bag in my house in Seoul would take a week to fill if there was nothing out of the ordinary going on.

The public transportation bugs me too. Inevitably, no matter what time or where I get on, somewhere on the way to my destination, the train will stop for a good 5 minutes for some reason or other. I like when they use the excuse of "there's traffic on the tracks" since the trains only come once every 5-10 minutes. Often, though, a train is dead on the tracks somewhere and we have to wait for them to clear the train corpse up so our train can get through.

But the thing that's really been getting me is the whole tipping thing. In Korea, you can't tip. For example, if you were to leave 1,000 won on the table, you'd be chased out of the restaurant with a "Oh, oh! Wait miss! You left this behind!!" Koreans are insulted that you would even think they needed a tip for doing their job. Other Asian countries are similar, though most places in China or Southeast Asia will certainly not refuse your tip if you're dumb culturally unaware enough to leave one.

And then we went to Spain, which was a whole other tipping phenomenon. Upon arrival, we knew that you didn't need to tip much, we assumed 10% or so. At the first restaurant we went to, we probably spent 7 or 8 Euro and we left a 1 Euro tip. Upon meeting our couchsurfer that evening, she was taken aback by our tipping. "Oh my god, I would never leave a Euro!... I mean, unless it's some super fancy restaurant! Who leaves a Euro as a tip?! Here, this will do for our 20 Euro meal!" As she slapped down a 20 cent coin. My American friend was clearly taken aback by this, and I think we wound up leaving 50 cents because we felt bad. And as we left, she pointed out "Well, you don't have to tip anyway... look at that table, they didn't tip! You only should tip if you like the service." And this kind of made sense to me. Just leave the change from the meal, and never more than a euro. I could deal with this kind of tipping.

But now, back in America, I've been having trouble with the tipping culture. My first meal out in the States was to a restaurant called Fire and Ice. Have you heard of it? It's popular in the Boston area, but I don't know if it's well known around the country or not. Anyway, it's a very do-it-yourself kind of restaurant. The waitress brings you your drink, rice and tortillas, and you do the rest. You get up, pick up your food, wait at the grill while it is cooked in front of you, bring it to the table and repeat. The waitress only takes care of drinks and deserts. My friend first left $1 tip at the grill, which was fine. But then when it came down to paying the tip, she still wanted to give a 20% tip. I was so confused "Wait, you already gave a dollar at the grill. What exactly did this waitress do to deserve $4??", I asked. But, that's just American mentality. You just leave a tip. And I understand why, because servers make practically slave labor wages without their tips. But, really, isn't tipping for showing appreciation for services rendered? What did she do? Remember that I wanted water not diet soda? Is that action really worth $4? Upon asking a friend who works as a waitress later, she recommends in that situation, asking the waitress what kind of tip is appropriate in that situation. It could be that she's paid more. Or it could be that she doesn't need to split her tips. You don't know until you ask. But, I'm much to shy to ask a question like that, personally.

Fast forward to a trip to the dim sum restaurant. You know, the ones where they bring the carts around and you pick what you want from your seat and they just place it on your table and mark your card? How the heck do you tip in this situation? There's no ONE waitress, but many. We left 20%, but we really wondered who was going to get those $3... doubtfully the people who actually gave us our food...

And then I've noticed that my parents and friends tend to over-tip. My first week home I was channel surfing and actually found a whole TV show which explained the etiquette of tipping. How much, when, where, etc. It was great. They explained that at an average restaurant, 15% should be the rule, 20% for extraordinary service. At a fancy restaurant, 20% is the rule. I'm fine with this rule, but as I count up what I see people leaving as tips, I notice that sometimes it's closer to 25-30% because either they're not doing the math properly or they don't have smaller bills so they just throw in more. I'm sure this used to happen all the time when I lived in the states, and I don't remember it bothering me, but now I look at that and get upset. "Why are you leaving so much!" and then, of course, I get looked at as a miserly scrooge as usual. Am I wrong for not wanting to pay more than I need to?

At least the good thing is, this time around visiting home, I'm not trying to "chogi-yo" the waiters like I was last time. Eye contact, eye contact... maybe it takes longer, but that's the norm here, I keep telling myself. What was your biggest reverse culture shock after returning to your home country?

Here are a list of rules from

15% – 20% for average – good service
May get a cut of table server’s tip; so tip your server extra to reward captain, or tip captain separately.
$1 – $2 a round -or- 15% to 20% of the tab, with a minimum of 50 cents per soft drink, $1 per alcoholic drink
Cocktail Waitresses:
$1 – $2 per drink
Sommelier or wine steward:
15% of cost of the bottle
Buffet Servers:
At least $1 per head if you get your own beverages. If you order beverages (or more) from the server, then you should tip 10-20% of the bill based on service quality.
Coatroom attendant:
$1 per coat
Room Service:
15% – 20%. You may want to see if gratuity has already been included in the tab.
Valet Attendant:
$2 – $5 average for each trip to the car, more may be appropriate given conditions. (Like weather or location)
Pool Attendant:
$1 – $2 for each service (providing towels or lounge chairs)
Showroom Maitre d’:
$1 – $2 for preassigned seats. For unassigned seating, you may tip according to where you want to sit (usually a tip over $50 will guarantee your seat)
Washroom attendant:
50 cents to $1
Taxi driver:
Varies depending on locality. Assume 15% will be enough; an extra $1 to $2 for help with bags.
Food delivery person:
The Greater of 15% of the bill or $3.00. Should tip 20% or more for a difficult delivery.
Grocery loader:
Check with store policy if tips are accepted. If so, $1 for bringing bags to car; $1.50 to $3 if you have more than 3 bags.
15% to 20%, minimum $1, for a haircut. For other services (shampoo, shave or manicure) tip $1 to $2 to service provider.
15% to 20%. (It is acceptable to tip owner, unless he or she says otherwise.)
Shampoo person:
Spa service:
15% to 20%. If service is provided by owner, no tip.
Coffee/food retailers w/ tip jars:
Tip is optional.
Tip is optional.
Gas attendant:
Tip is optional.
Skycap at airport:
$1 per bag if you check-in curbside; $2 per bag if skycap takes bags to check-in counter.
Hotel doorman:
$1 per bag for help with luggage; $1 per person for hailing a cab
Hotel bellhop:
$1 per bag for bringing luggage to your room (but a $2 minimum if you have just one bag)
Hotel housekeeper:
$2 to $5 per night
Hotel concierge:
$5 for getting you tickets or reservations ($10-plus if they’re hard to get). No tip required when you ask for directions.
Varies. Ask cruise line about customary gratuities.
Tip is optional, but recommended.
Tattoo/Body Piercing: 20%. More for custom or difficult work. Tattoo touch-ups min. $10, Jewelry insertions min. $5.00.

Do you want to fly Air Koryo?

I want to know what my readers think of this: Air Koryo's Facebook Fan Page

Air Koryo is the National airline of North Korea. The author of this page (who I'm not 100% convinced actually represents Air Koryo) is quite honest, but also extremely civil and makes the trolling South Korean insulters look pretty bad. They claim that while they are funded by the DPRK, they function independently.  And their English is... well.... pretty much perfect....

Great conversations happen here like:
  • Dongmin Kim Republic Of Korean's(south korea) people think the Democratic People's Republic of Korea(north korea) is equal to the air koryo. Think that part is able to understand.
    July 27 at 7:23am ·

    Air Koryo Korean Airways (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг) Sorry, I can't exactly understand what you mean by that.
    July 27 at 7:25am ·
  • Air Koryo Korean Airways (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг) Were you trying to explain to us that Air Koryo is a part of the DPRK Government? If so bingo! You're the winner. But honestly what's the actual point behind saying that?
    July 27 at 7:27am · 

    Air Koryo Korean Airways (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг) ROK and DPRK are 100% separate nations with two ways of thinking. One does not impact on the other that often as you may think. Air Koryo is independent in how it operates and why it operates. It’s merely financed by the Government, as the Government doesn't utilize Air Koryo aircraft. Rather Air Koryo operates separate VIP configured airliners for the Government from separate air fields. There is minimal over lap except for national issues such as soccer teams and other sporting teams traveling abroad who will use a chartered flight or existing scheduled service.

    And this:

    • Gregori Quiros Hello Air Koryo, Air koryo have a internet page to the internet chek in??
      July 13 at 8:01am ·

      Air Koryo Korean Airways (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг) You kidding right?
      July 13 at 8:27am
    • Gregori Quiros no !!!! its a good idea and a good solution to help the north korean tourism!
      July 13 at 12:03pm

      Air Koryo Korean Airways (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг) There are many things to do before even looking at "Online check-in" such as actually creating a website. I think online check-in is just for the business traveler and the westerners which are a lower portion of the JS network.

So, do you want to fly Air Koryo now?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Science Museum of Boston

One of my favorite places in Boston is the Science Museum. It's great for kids, but adults can have a blast here too. I went here last week with a friend of mine who fortunately had a membership and got us in for free. Otherwise the price is now a whopping $22 per person for admission. We also got tickets to the planetarium to see "Cosmic Collisions" where I learned how scientists now think the moon was formed and what will happen to our galaxy in billions of years. 

 Static Electricity 

My favorite part of the museum which I make a special point to see whenever I go, is the Lightning Show. I've seen it probably 10 times... at least in my life, probably more, but I never get tired of it. Who can resist seeing the worlds largest Van de Graff generator in action along with giant Tesla coils playing music?

I tried to get the lightning spark here, but this cage is being zapped by lighting from the Van de Graff generator behind it. And what is she doing? yes, she is touching the metal cage that is being struck by the lighting. Why isn't she being electrocuted? It's because the electricity only travels on the outside of the metal, making it perfectly safe to be touching the inside of the metal cage... or being inside of a metal frame car if you are struck by lightning. 

I took the above photo while this Tesla coil played a song for us from the buzz it makes each time the lightning is emited. Now, to the naked eye, there was actually only one spark being released at a time, but my camera which was probably on a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second (sorry, don't know exactly, could have been longer) picked up all of these sparks in that short frame of time. That gives you some idea of how frequently these sparks were being emitted. 

But that's not all the museum has to offer. Here below you see a working model of the Mars rover. 

A display of the birds in our neighborhood, including the pink plastic lawn flamingo. And if you checked the computer screen in front, you could get all sorts of data on any of these species and learn about the flight patterns and calls of the pink lawn flamingo (or the Canadian goose, raven, etc etc)

Here's a before and after for you. That egg above with the wing hanging out... that became the chick you see below and we were lucky enough to see it actually come out of the shell on it's own. 

This pendulum above is actually a clock. It keeps time because as the Earth spins the pendulum moves and knocks down a series of pins on the mosaic below which represent the hours of the day. 

And I couldn't help but photographing these adorable stuffed creatures from the gift shop. The big one is the cuddly common cold virus, and below, you have a cute little mono virus. Don't these make the perfect gifts???

The North End

The North End of Boston is famous for its Italian food. We took a trip in here last Friday night for a little treat for ourselves. 

Our first stop was at an eatery called L'Osteria which served up a decent chicken, broccoli and ziti. The prices were quite reasonable, I think.

 For desert, we couldn't not go to one of the North End's Italian bakeries. I picked up a canoli for me and my mom and my friend got some yummy Italian cookies.

I have no idea how you make these cookies, but they are quite different from the kind of cookies you buy in  the supermarket. They are not particularly sweet, and a bit drier than the standard supermarket cookies too, but for some reason, I love them because of this.

No trip to Boston is complete without a stop by here. Just a few minute walk from Faneuil Hall Marketplace, be sure to stop by here on your next trip! 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sam Adams Brewery Tour

Nestled in a little residential neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, Boston, exists one of Boston's finest establishments. Yes, the  Samuel Adams Brewery. A few days after getting home from Spain, I was able to get a tour here and learn probably more than I ever wanted to know about the beer.

While we waited for the tour, we got to vote on the new beer for next winter's winter six pack. 

Then, on our tour, we got to taste and smell some of the hops they use to make their beers and see where they store the beer while it ferments and becomes what we drink.

But, of course, the part of the tour that everyone was looking forward too was the chance to sample beers on the last part of the tour. We got to try three beers, the Boston Lager, which is their most famous brew, the Octoberfest which is brewed with 5 different malts for a rich flavor, and Boston Brick Red which is only available on tap in and around Boston. We really liked the Boston Lager and the Octoberfest, but we were less impressed by the Boston Brick Red. But the one nice thing about the Brick Red is that Samuel Adams makes a donation to charities for every keg sold, so for this if nothing else, it may be worth a try if you see it next time you're out.

There are tours from Monday-Saturday and the cost is only a $2.00 suggested donation to local charities. Visit their website for more info!

Boston at Night

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'm on a Boat

This was... more or less... me on Wednesday: 

Yea, I was on a boat. A sailboat in fact, sailing on the open waters of New Bedford Harbor. Ok, those aren't really open waters, but the wind/surf was too rough and my uncle didn't want to take us three novices (me and my two cousins) out of the harbor. It was a really fun experience nevertheless and I would definitely go again if I get the opportunity. Oh, and we definitely were singing this song the whole ride. 

The dock where we got on our dingy to get to the boat.

The aproach to our boat, the Dream Catcher

Sailing is a lot of work. Fortunately, I got to sit and watch while others got it all set up. 

Once we got into the harbor we opened up the sail and shut off the engine. We sailed along for over an hour in the harbor on our own wind power. 

Finally it was time to call it quits and go back. We had to make lots of preparations to leave the boat as Hurricane Irene is set to hit on Sunday morning. I hope the little boat survives out there so I can go out there again someday!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spain Food Diary

Bread with meat and cheese (Tapas) and two glasses of Tinto de Verano

Ah, memories of our first real meal in Spain. This meal would shape the rest of our meals for the rest of the trip. Out at a little local joint in Fuenlebrada outside of Madrid, we learned the true definition of tapas (free sides that come with your drinks. Of course, nowadays many places will charge you for them), tinto de verano (wine with soda and lemon) and patatas braviolis (a combination of patatas bravas with a red sauce and patatas ali-oli with a creme sauce... a combination apparently only known to this one tiny joint in Fuenlabrada because despite our requests for it elsewhere no where even knew what we were talking about). 

Patatas Braviolis

Another dish that's hard to avoid in the Spanish summer is gazpacho. It seems most people have had gazpacho in America, but not the real Spanish version. It's a soup made of blended vegetables, served cold. Super refreshing on a hot day in Spain.


Coming from Korea and seeing a sight like this one above was like a dream come true. Every meat and cheese available, by the slice upon request. I couldn't help it, I bought a sandwich here for one euro and enjoyed every minute of it. 

I spotted this chocolataria and recognized it almost immediately as the place I had visited in 2003 on my last visit. We made a point to come back here after the performance of Carmen to get some Chocolate con Churros. In my opinion, there is no other way to eat churros than with "chocolate" which is actually a cup of liquid chocolate of the consistency that you might get by filling the cup 3/4 with Hershey's chocolate syrup 1/4 hot milk. I have no idea how they actually make the chocolate, but it's probably nothing like you've ever seen before and nothing resembling your typical Starbucks hot cocoa.

Can anyone tell me if this anomaly known as "Dunkin' Coffee" is owned by Dunkin' Donuts? It looks exactly the same... just ... not. 

 Hummus and Moroccan Tea

It's hard not to eat Arabic food while in Andalusia. It's everywhere in Granada and we also got some in Cordoba too. Here was my first introduction to Moroccan mint tea. I love it, but while the glasses are beautiful, they are not very helpful to the enjoyment of the tea as they are very hot and have no holders on the side like a western style tea cup. 

 Lamb and Veggies


 Tortilla Española

We were introduced to the Spanish tortilla at our next couchsurfer's house outside of Sevilla. No, it is nothing like a Mexican tortilla that you make your burritos with. The best way to explain this is a potato omelet, but it's really more like a pan fried potato and egg cake.. or something. But whatever it is, it is delicious and one of Spain's most famous dishes. 

Paella de Carne

Spain's other famous dish is the Paella, which is a pan fried rice with meat. Usually this comes with seafood, but we were lucky enough to find a meat variation because my friend doesn't eat seafood and as for me, it's really not my favorite (not to mention bad memories of a seafood paella back in 2003). 

 Huevas (roe)

Three more tapas, in various forms. Some big like meals, some small like sides. 

Chicken and the most delicious potatoes

 Croquettes- free tapas in Granada

We ate our last meal out in Spain with a couchsurfer and her friend. They took us to a fancy vegetarian restaurant with a waitress in a bad mood but an amazing chef. Honestly, I can't remember what this was, but I forced myself to eat the whole thing because it was so delicious and we couldn't take it with us since we were leaving early the next morning. 

And here, my readers, is my last meal in Spain. Yes a Happy Meal at the airport in Madrid. It was pretty much the most filling and healthy thing I could order with the 5 euros I had left. I was incredibly happy with this Happy Meal because I was able to choose carrots instead of fries (with Laughing Cow cheese to dip!), apple juice instead of soda and and a side of pineapple. :-) Are Happy Meals in America (or other countries) this healthy nowadays too, or is this just a Spanish thing? I know I never had these options growing up.