This is a long one. It happened this year, so my memory of it is still intact. Recurrence of its effects are also frequent, that reminds me of its cause. But why should I debate whether it's pride or stupidity? It's in my character not to just let things go. Believe me though, that I'm a very patient and tolerant person. It's just that I have some buttons someone could push, that I find unforgivable. Is that normal?
I hate fish. I really don't like the smell of it whether its cooked in whatever ways or not. The taste is a bit tolerable but it's the smell in my breath that makes me even not want to eat it. In this company I currently work for, where we are fed 5 lunches a week (sometimes more if we work over-time or on Saturdays), we're served with pork or other meat only but once a week. I opted to eat separately and I'm compensated with a small amount of money (about 1/3 of what they would have spent if I ate their lunch). But there are rare times when they invite me over for lunch for free, whenever they're served meat. But very rarely. In addition, there's the occasional dinner where we all go out to eat samgeupsal together. It's the boss's treat. I always get invited with those and I'm more than glad to join them. In these occasions, they drink a lot of alcohol while I'm given just a bottle of coca-cola, ever since I'm sober (for years now).
Things have been going smoothly like this for the years I've been working here. But then came the time when my 3 officials decided to chip-in on their (almost) nightly drinking spree. Two of them are willing to do so, while the other has always been hesitant to spend money except for himself. But since it was always them who drink every night, he has no choice when it's his turn to pay the bill.
There are two of us foreigners working for this company. The other one's a new guy, so I guess he still doesn't have enough back bone to say "no" to anything. These 3 officials decided to ask the new guy to buy them some beer, and of course the new guy can't refuse. When I was told about this, I couldn't blame him "much" because he also joins with them on these nightly drinks. That's aside from being new. I did scold at him for some reasons.
The thing is, I've learned that it's Korean culture not to give freebies to anyone older or higher in social ranks. It's considered an insult, as if you're saying, "You're too poor to spend for such, so I'm gonna give you some out of pity." It's that offensive. Mind you, I read this from a Korean guide, and have asked 3 elders and confirmed it. The reasoning of this mindset goes way back to their old-ways of confucianism or bhuddism (not really sure which one), and I don't have the strength to explain it. But with this knowledge, I understand it.
So the 3 were happy to find the new guy gullible enough to spend some money for their drinks, they tried it on me. At first, I considered it a joke. I didn't reply and gestured that I don't like it. But as a joke, it shouldn't be repeated. But it was repeated. They asked me to buy them some beer again. This time, it's not a joke, but a joke if it doesn't work, and not a joke if it works. I find this offensive and I showed it to them. They laughed thinking I am protesting the fact that they often drink during working hours. But that's not my real reason. I'm insulted 'cause I don't drink anymore. They could've asked for food or coffee. Even expensive coffee! But no! They just have to push it and ask me for their beer.
You see, turning sober is a bit bothersome here. Time after time, I've been coaxed and even demanded to drink with them, even for just one shot. At first I completely refused. Then they kept pushing and pulled the "I'm older than you so you should follow my orders." card. I had no choice but to accept the shot glass, and did the old, "spit it in your coke bottle" trick. I made it extremely obvious that I didn't swallow the alcohol. Were they blind? I think so. Because all they cared about was I accepted the shot glass and therefore, I drank.
Some days after, I asked one of them if being sober is a bad thing to them. I expressed that I thought I should even be congratulated for this. Or at least have my actions respected. But them pushing me to go back to drinking is starting to annoy me. This official laughed and told me, "It's just Korean way to tease you." which upsets me. I told him I don't appreciate this.
Another 2 days and I was invited to have some samgeupsal. Of course, everyone's drinking but me again. And again, I was forcefully pressed to drink, just because they saw me accept the shot glass before. I knew I was going to regret what I did back then. And again, I had no choice but to pretend to drink that nasty soju, and showed them that I deliberately spat it out in my glass of cola... yet that last part, they ignored. After that first shot, I walked out of the restaurant and just glad I came with my bike. I don't have to wait for them for a ride.
Later on, I warned the other official (who's birthday is nearing) that I really don't want to be offered any more alcohol. I'd rather not go to his party if they'll insist. I watched his mouth carefully and I knew he was about to ask why I drank the previous ones "offered" to me. I immediately cut him saying I threw all of them out. I never drank any of them. That if only they noticed I never touched my cola after that, it's because there's alcohol in it.
And so that was settled...
... But that was then.
Back to them asking me to pay for their drinks...
So yes, it might not be a big deal. But to me, this is just completely and deliberately insulting. Why should I spend for their drinks if I myself don't drink at all? All this "pulling out their ranks" to make me drink, then asking me to pay for them now... it's just one of those buttons they pushed that really irked me. I then considered that they're asking me to pay for every meal they've given me for free. A meal that they themselves didn't pay for. A meal that they themselves invited me to.
Should I call it pride? Because it's been a long while since this happened. But ever since, I refused to dine with them. I refused every meal that they offered. Doesn't matter whether it's a party or just one of those days when the boss feels generous. It doesn't even matter if the boss personally invites me. All I could think of is, "It's best you save the money for my share and spend it for your beers. At least I could consider that MY treat." But if only I could say these words in Korean. I'd definitely say it to my boss if I can translate it properly. I've been searching for the proper translation of this, so I won't be misunderstood. But for every attempt in asking Koreans, they refuse to translate it claiming, "It's too insulting and you shouldn't tell this to any Korean, no matter what they did."
Should I call it stupidity? The truth of the matter is, I miss those dinners. It's not much the food. Heck, I can buy my own with my own hard-earned money. But it's the bonding. That part where we could freely talk to each other about anything. The jokes and laughter. I missed those things. And what makes it worse, is that I'm getting more and more detached from my co-workers. Being sober alone does this. How much more with not dining with them?
The thing is, I will not be satisfied until this issues of mine be addressed by the boss. I really want to talk to him and explain why I keep refusing to join them. The problem is what to say. What to answer after they asked whatever, when I say it. What to reply when those 3 officials start to defend themselves just to save their faces (it's inevitable). And most importantly, how to say it in Korean. All I want is an apology and for them to keep me out of that drinking business. I think I can call it "principle."