A customer ventures close to the North Korean border and learns not to shake hands

One of my regular customers came into Admiral’s self-storage facility in Birmingham this week and as usual after adding a few documents to his collection came and sat down with me for a quick catch up on the news.

Now in the past I would have always offered him a cup of coffee, but since one of my other customers who deals in medical matters advised me of the issues that I might be storing up for myself through my consumption of the liquid, I have started to offer not only coffee but also English tea and green tea.

The green tea was the most recent addition, recommended by a friend, and I must say I find it quite tasty – although I have not given up the coffee altogether.  However my customer was not impressed.

“You haven’t been to Korea for the Winter Olympics have you?” he asked suspiciously.  I told him that sadly I hadn’t although it looked on TV like it might have been fun – if cold.  But then I asked, why did he particularly mention Korea?

“Only because they have quite an enthusiasm for green tea,” he answered.  “My company advised on some building work for the Olympics and so I had to go there are few times.”

“What’s it like?” I asked.

“What, green tea?” he asked.

“No, Korea,” I said.

“Very modern, rains a lot, everyone bows,” he told me.

“Bows when?” I persisted.

“All the time.  It’s their way of signing off a conversation, and their way of saying thank you.  In fact the only time they don’t bow is when dressed up in traditional costume as dragons and ancient gods.”

“Do they do that often?” I asked.

“Every hour on the hour in the airport.  It’s actually very good and makes a change from listening to piped muzak while you wait.

“So do they bow in the airport?”

“Yep – you hand over your ticket and you get a bow, you are shown your seat on the plane and you get a bow, you get given your meal on the plane and you get a bow.  I was even asked how I wanted my steak done, I said ‘medium,’ and then got a bow.”

“What on the plane?” I asked.

“All the time on the plane,” he said.  “They take your ticket and you get a bow, and you get proper food.”

“Must play havoc with their backs,” I observed.  “I don’t suppose you went to the North did you?”

“I don’t think there is a tourist trade to the Workers’ Paradise,” I was told, “although the capital of the south, where you land, is only about 30 miles from the border.  But we didn’t get to see much of the country – you never do on these business trips.  Straight in, lots of bows, have a meal, discuss the deal, bow and then back on the Korean Airlines flight.   Mind you the duty free is incredibly cheap.”

“Anything good in duty free?”

“All the usual but a lot cheaper than you get it at Heathrow.”

“I suppose I could do my Christmas shopping,” I mused.

“Bit of a long way for that,” he said.  “Twelve and a half hour flight through nine time zones.  One of those journeys in which you get home before you leave and still feel exhausted.  Interesting place – just based on exporting things so they make a big profit.

“What on earth do they export?” I asked.

“Integrated circuits and cars,” he said.  “You have heard of Samsung!?” and I realised that of course that was it.  Hyundi cars and Samsung electronics.

“So not worth it just for the day trip,” I said, and my customer agreed it was probably not.  “But you could go and learn a bit more about making a cup of green tea.”

I agreed that when I next had a spare afternoon I might pop over and take a lesson or two.  But I’d have to practise my bowing first.