[Thanks to my friend, Ji-Yoon (Jade) Choi, another former Portlandian who moved back to Seoul, for telling me about this.]
One of the fun parts of traveling is that you get to learn about other cultures. Being in an unfamiliar place forces you to follow new patterns. If you are open-minded, you gain a better understanding of how other people see the world.
I learned several things that stretched my perspective while I was in Seoul (did I mention the lunch with squirming octopus chunks?). One interesting part of Korean culture I learned about is called the coffee test.
In Korea, coffee has become part of the dating ritual, at least among the younger generation. When young couples go out to dinner, they often follow up the meal with a trip to a café for coffee and/or dessert. When the pair goes out for the first time, this café visit can be a strong indicator of the future of the relationship.
Typically, the man pays for the couple’s dinner and the woman pays for the coffee. If the woman doesn’t like the man, however, she will make no move when it is time to pay for the coffee. When this happens, the man has failed the coffee test—he has the double misfortune of paying twice and of being rejected.
While this test is a rather indirect way of communicating lack of romantic interest, it is effective. Therefore, gentlemen, if you ever take a Korean woman out for coffee after dinner and she doesn’t pay the tab, you’re probably not the one she’s looking for.
You failed the coffee test.