From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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Children Banned from (Some) Restaurants and Coffee Shops in Korea

When two restaurants in South Korea were asked to pay damages for two separate accidents involving children who were dining with their parents, some restaurants and coffee shops in South Korea started banning kids from their establishments. As expected, many parents protested. For them, the ban is nothing but a form of discrimination, not a way for restaurants to avoid mishaps and legal concerns. On the other hand, citizens who support the ban are saying that restaurant owners have the right to make new policies concerning their businesses, because children these days tend to be rowdy and ungovernable even in public places.

A sign that says: "Children under 5 years are not allowed to enter." (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

A sign that says: “Children under 5 years are not allowed to enter.” (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

A couple of times, I have seen little children running around restaurants while their parents are engrossed in their chitchats with other adults. I am not referring to your typical family diner or a fast food restaurant (like McDonald’s) where the little ones can eat and play. I have seen children turn a fancy restaurant into a playground and the parents did absolutely nothing! I recall that time when my husband and I were having dinner at Lotte Hotel World’s La Seine Buffet. Two boys were racing towards the buffet table and almost bumped into me. If I had not seen them coming, I would have accidentally spilled food on the floor! Another incident happened in a galbi restaurant, the one with the big built-in grill that uses red-hot coals. We had just finished our first order of galbi. A restaurant employee was removing the coal from our grill to replace it with a new one when this child, about 3 or 4, approached our table. I swear, she was just a few inches away from getting scalded by the sweltering coal!

I’ve witnessed this hullabaloo not only in Korea, but also in the Philippines. Once we had a customer in Ra’s who ate with her two naughty children. While the Mom was ordering food, the older kid toyed with our straw dispenser and kept pressing it until a handful of straws fell off the counter. The Mom didn’t tell the kid to stop. Instead, she asked her to get some straws for their drinks. She was an obedient child, I’ll tell you that, because she took half of the straws from the dispenser! I was waiting for the Mom to tell her child to return the straws that they would not use, but she just left without saying a word. She didn’t do anything, too, when her children were running around while eating and when the younger kid threw up, leaving a nasty souvenir on the floor for the other costumers to see (and smell). The janitor’s office was a few steps away from where she was seated. The least she could do if she didn’t want to clean her child’s mess was to alert the janitor, so he could mop the floor, but after asking her toddler if he was okay and wiping his mouth and his vomit-soaked shirt, she returned to her seat as if nothing happened. She didn’t even bother to tell her kids to sit down and eat like children with proper table manners do. I had to ask one of our employees to run to the janitor’s office to have the floor cleaned.

“Kids will be kids”, this is what most parents with misbehaving children say, but what if a child scurrying around a restaurant poses a risk to himself and/or to the servers? Would a parent take responsibility for any accidents that may occur as a result of the child’s recklessness? In the case of the two restaurants in Korea that I have mentioned earlier, it was the staff who got the blame.

A local court recently ruled that two restaurants should pay 10 million won and 47 million won to two children, respectively, who were scalded while dining. One child ran into a restaurant employee carrying hot water and another was burned by charcoal fire. (Source: The Korea Times)

According to some restaurant and coffee shop owners, other customers complain when kids make too much noise. A certain Mr. Im, owner of a cafe, shared his thoughts online:

The other day customers complained so much due to a noisy child. If kids are breaking the calm atmosphere, the number of customers will go down. This is why other cafes are also considering adopting a No Kids Zone. (Source: Koreabang)

Foreigners also have something to say about the issue. On Dave’s ESL Cafe you will find posts such as:

I, for one, agree with the restaurants who ban children because I have seen on too many occasions Korean parents who just let their child wander about restaurants without a care about what the child is up to.
I also think it is harsh but until more Korean parents start acting up to their responsibility as parents then tough luck. (Posted by Savant)

Why not simply ban those who disturb others? Sure, I’ve been bothered by kids running around restaurants here, but I’ve also been banned by a table full of drunk ajjoshis.
Ban the action, and those that do it, not the group. (Posted by Captain Corea)

One thing I have noticed in Korea is that it is very common for parents to take their children with them in places intended for adults. I have seen kids in coffee shops, theaters, and even in bars and hofs. In fact, one of my husband’s friends sometimes takes his two sons with him during drinking sessions with his buddies. Both children are toddlers. Though they rarely misbehave, they toy with chopsticks and spoons, and sometimes spill drinks.

If you frequent coffee shops in Korea, chances are you’d find children in them, too. If you are lucky, you would even see babies, yes, babies in their strollers! Babies in coffee shops won’t probably cause trouble, but wait until they disturb the peace by crying incessantly. Some moms try to pacify them, but some just don’t know what to do.

A woman, together with her two kids, was turned away in a coffee shop where strollers are prohibited. (Source:

A woman, together with her two kids, was turned away in a coffee shop where strollers are prohibited. (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

The first time I went to a theater in Korea, I was surprised to see children as young as 2 0r 3 inside the cinema. I wasn’t going to watch an animation movie, so I wondered why those kids were there. As a matter of fact, the movie was not suitable for young viewers.

I have a nephew and a niece who are very young, and they can be pesky at times. They love to eat out, so we just can’t leave them with a baby-sitter when we have family dates. Before going out, we talk to them and remind them to behave properly or else we won’t take them with us next time. The method always works… but kids can’t be controlled all the time. When they cry or start to make trouble in public places, we just don’t ignore them.

Parents are responsible for the way their children behave. Parents should set limits for their children and not tolerate their misconduct.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC), prohibiting children from entering restaurants is illegal, because it opposes the rights of equality, but don’t restaurant owners also have the right to protect their businesses from troublesome young clienteles?

What is your take on this issue? Should restaurants and coffee shops in South Korea implement  the no-kids zone?


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Let Me Tell You Something about My Korean Parents-in-law

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This morning, I woke up at 6:30 to prepare breakfast for my 시부모님 (parents-in-law). It’s Parents’ Day in Korea, so I wanted to do something special for them besides pinning carnation boutonnieres on their shirts.

I used to wake up very early in the morning to fix breakfast for my in-laws, but I haven’t done this in a long time since I started working. Hubby and I would still be in bed until the in-laws leave for work. Somebody told me that this is more like a “mortal sin” in Korea. Preparing the parents-in-law’s meals is one of the (many) duties of a 며느리 (daughter-in-law), if they live together, and if the daughter-in-law doesn’t  fulfill this duty, the parents-in-law will be displeased.

Maybe at some point, my parents-in-law were wondering why I suddenly stopped preparing breakfast for them… maybe they don’t like it… maybe they even think I’m lazy and irresponsible. Maybe they don’t complain, because I fulfill my other duties anyway…  maybe my not waking up in the morning is okay with them, maybe they understand that I get tired from work, too, and I need more sleep… maybe they know that in Filipino culture, it’s not a woman’s obligation “to serve” the in-laws all the time… maybe they don’t think it’s all right, but they don’t want to impose it on me, or they are just too kind and they’re not the type of 시부모님 who would pound on my door early in the morning, tell me to get up and require me to fulfill my first 며느리 duty for the day.

I remember the first year I lived with my in-laws. I was so afraid to make mistakes. I followed almost everything they told me. It wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that I couldn’t be “me” in front of them. Until now, I can’t wear shorts in the house even when it’s so damn hot in summer. When I came to Korea, I brought all of my “not-so-short” shorts, but my 시어머님 (mother-in-law) would not let me wear them, so she bought me a few pairs of “training pants” (sweatpants) to wear at home. I’m stuck with those training pants to this day.

When the family goes out for dinner, I can’t wear a skirt or anything short or tight. Sometimes when I feel like “dressing up” for a date with hubby, I have to wear tights under my skirt or dress when we leave the house; then I’d just take off the tights when we are in the car, and put them back on before we go home. My mother-in-law always tells me to cover my legs. The way she puts it, I’m not an 아가씨 (young lady) anymore, so I should start dressing like an 아줌마 (married woman).

My mother-in-law is a sweet and kind woman. She doesn’t yell at me like other “mean” MIL’s. I appreciate her for all the reminders, but I’d be a hypocrite to say that it’s okay to have a “strict dress code” even in our own house. Though I’m not “free” to do everything I want to do, because hubby and I live with my parents-in-law, I’m fortunate to have more freedom than some 며느리 who are not allowed to go out, meet friends or even have a job other than being a 주부 (housewife).

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My 시어머님 told me that when she lived with her mother-in-law, she didn’t have much of the freedom that I have now. Her mother-in-law was very strict, and she had to follow all of her instructions. My Korean teacher and my former wonjangnim shared with me the same experience. One of my Korean friends who is also a 며느리 used to have a promising career as a nutritionist, but after giving birth to her first child, her parents-in-law “required” her to quit her job and be a full-time Mom.

My mother-in-law suggested I stop working, too, but it was because I got sick and had to go to the hospital many times. I told her I’d like to keep my job; she respected my decision.

Sometimes, my mother-in-law gets lonely and bored, and she likes to have a conversation. Though my Korean isn’t so good, we can talk for a long time. Believe it or not, I love the simple conversations my 시어머님 and I have from time to time. After all, I also get lonely and bored when my husband is not around. I’m glad that instead of listening to my 시어머님 nag on and on about my mistakes, I listen to her stories, her sentiments, her opinions as a woman like me and not as the “evil” mother-in-law you can’t exchange opinions with.

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My father-in-law, on the other hand, is a quiet man (just like my husband), but once he starts talking, you really have to listen and obey. He used to lecture me about not eating vegetables and being too afraid to try spicy food. He made me eat kimchi, fresh garlic, onions and other food I never thought I’d ever try… even turtle and sashimi that smells like a public toilet which hasn’t been cleaned for weeks! He disapproves spending money on shoes and clothes. He always says that having at least one pair of shoes is enough, but I have a lot I brought with me when I came to Korea. He tells me to save, save, save for our future instead of wasting money on shopping, but I don’t even go shopping that much.

There were moments when I thought that my 시아버님 (father-in-law) was making my life in Korea difficult, but after some time, I realized he was right, well, not about everything, about “some” things. He told me that I won’t be able  to survive life in Korea without eating vegetables, since most 반찬 (side dishes) are veggies. Perhaps he thought that I was just making an excuse when I told him that I can’t eat spicy food because of my laryngitis. (I wasn’t making it up.) To avoid conflict with my father-in-law, I learned to eat vegetables and spicy food. I started with a little serving until I could eat more. Now I can’t eat rice without kimchi, and I crave spicy soup most of the time! My father-in-law is pleased every time he sees me eating Korean food.

When I got sick, he went hiking in the mountain to find ginseng for me. He told me to eat ginseng raw, because it’s going to make me healthy. I complained to my husband about how bitter ginseng tastes. Hubby also refused to eat it. 시아버님 forced me to eat the bitter herb, and I obeyed, not because I was scared to disappoint him, but because I knew despite that authoritarian sound of his voice saying, “먹어!” (“Eat!”), he’s a caring parent-in-law who wants his daughter-in-law to be well that he even spent the entire morning looking for that herb which isn’t easy to find.

My husband and I started saving money in the bank two years ago. 시아버님 was right. We need to save for our future. We are planning to move out after 2 years. I’d be a liar to say that I prefer to live with my parents-in-law. They are very good people, and I’ve learned their ways as years passed by. I care about them as if they were my second parents, and I know they care about me, too, but you see, daughters-in-law in Korea are never free from the standards of their parents-in-law. The weight of following these standards is heavier when you live with the in-laws. I don’t want to live up to anybody’s standards or expectations, because I want to feel good about myself and live a happier life. Also, I want to maintain the good relationship I have with my in-laws, which I worked so hard to keep. I have earned their trust and respect and I don’t want to lose these when I can no longer be an obedient 며느리… but as long as I can, I will try to obey. After all, they have shown me much kindness, thoughtfulness, patience… most of all, love.