Korea This Week: September 18 – 24

In Korea this week: the North Korean insult barrage, going Dutch in a cashless world, and hacking the Costco food court


‘The Flame War era’

Last Friday, Kim Jong-un set the Merriam Webster Dictionary website ablaze when, in a rare public statement, he referred to US President Donald Trump as a “mentally deranged dotard”. The antiquated insult came on the heels of the Trump administration’s announcement of new sanctions on North Korea, and Trump’s referring to Kim Jong-un as “Little Rocket Man”.

Defined as “someone who is in his or her dotage”, “dotard” first appeared in the 14th Century and originally referred to an “imbecile”, though today it more commonly connotes senility or frailty. The New York Times noted that the word has only appeared in its pages ten times since 1980, mainly in references to classic literature in the Arts section.

North Korea has an uncommon knack for producing old-fashioned insults (Kim also referred to Trump as a “rogue”), which has long been surmised to be a result of their reliance on old English dictionaries, though I confess to wondering whether they were also cognizant of the more recent trend of applying “-tard” as a suffix and considered the resemblance a bonus.  

Time magazine recently ran a short but entertaining history of North Korean insults, the choicest of which were employed against the Bush administration, which was once collectively described as “a bunch of tricksters and political imbeciles who are the center of a plot breeding fraud and swindle”, while then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was singled out as a “political dwarf, human scum or hysteric… a fascist tyrant who puts an ogre to shame.” Oh, snap!

Closeup of Kim Jong-un’s coffee mug.

Going Dutch Goes Mobile

Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that among Korean millennials, the practice of splitting the bill (what Koreans refer to as “Dutch pay”) has become much more common than among their parents’ generation. To keep in step with this trend, many electronic payment platforms (Kakao, Naver, et. al.) have arisen to help people split bills electronically.

This Korea Times article announces the coming launch of the “credit card Dutch pay service” by the Financial Services Commission, calling it the “latest breakthrough” that has been enabled by advances in “fintech” (a portmanteau formed from “financial” and “technology”), which joins “dotard” on the list of words I learned this week.

Though some diners, like myself, still divvy up bills using the time-honored method of forking over some cash, this could very well be phased out entirely in the not–too-distant future, as Korea moves toward becoming a cashless society. Because of the ease and ubiquity of electronic payment options, only about twenty percent of transactions in Korea still use cash, while coins have already been targeted for phase-out in a trial program announced earlier this year.

Costco Condiment Hack

This recent LA Times piece examines the Korean invention of an “indigenous Costco side dish” featuring food court onions mixed with ketchup and mustard. The resulting mixture, better known to Korea’s expat population as “Costco kimchi” or “Costco Onion Salad”, has long been a common sight at Costco stores all over Korea, where shoppers spread it on pizza, hot dogs, bulgogi bakes, or simply tuck into it as a stand-alone side dish.

Though some expats deride the practice as a kind of rampant, years-long abuse of a defenseless multi-national corporation, other observers have noted that it’s more easily explained as a confluence of the Korean cultural expectation of side dishes being provided with meals, and Costco management’s tacit acceptance of having inadvertently provided one.

A similar piece appeared a few years ago on SweetPicklesandCorn.com (republished here), arguing that the practice is more fairly judged a “life hack” than a cultural hack job, and noting that, when spread atop a split-open bulgogi bake, Costco Onion salad is actually pretty damned good.

This is what I’m talking about, folks. Get on it!

And how was your week?


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