A Handful of Lemons

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Outside of Seongsan, Jeju Island, South Korea

A Handful of Lemons

It’s rainy season in South Korea, and I fear I’m starting to mildew. Plus, while one day of rain is a nice change of pace, much more than that makes me cranky. As a result, my tolerance for things-I-don’t-understand (aka cultural differences) is running a little thin right now.

Unfortunately, one of those cultural differences is service. It isn’t always what you might expect.

When we stay in an Airbnb for more than a week, we usually ask the host to send us a cleaning person/service. We’re happy to pay, of course. Having a weekly clean sends the message that we’re taking care of the place, someone gets the work, and we like having things freshened up. It’s a win for everyone, I hope.

So we messaged our host—a man named Hun, who seems very nice, but who doesn’t speak a single word of English (note: I don’t speak a single word of Korean, and I’m the one who is a guest in this country, so I’m definitely not complaining about his lack of English; I’m just pointing out that our communications are challenging). Anyway, we asked Hun to send someone yesterday to clean. He said (I think) that he would come.

Someone did come while we were out, as expected, but it was . . . odd. Basically, the floors were cleaned, the toilets were cleaned, and the bathrooms were sprayed. None of the sinks were cleaned. The garbage was left piled up in the kitchen. The dishes were left in the sink. But the throw pillows on the couch were artfully placed in a decorative array.

Whatever—it’s fine. Odd, but unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

These weird service glitches, though, are ubiquitous, and always a little startling.

In Uruguay, we got into the habit of going for a long walk after lunch, and stopping off at a fancy food court for a cold drink and a snack. Lee liked the ice cream, and I liked the fried-round-things booth. They had a chocolate ball of deliciousness, sort of like a Brazilian brigadeiro. I’d order two, and the server would put a napkin on the counter, and put the two balls on the napkin. I’d pay, then take my napkin of dessert to our table.

This was a very fancy, expensive, hipster-style food hall. It was full of beautiful people, eating all sorts of imported delicacies. There was something vaguely uncivilized about that napkin. It was odd.

Once, another time, we were in a seafood restaurant—you know the type: picnic tables covered with butcher paper, platters of fried or boiled shellfish. I asked the waiter for some extra lemon wedges.

He came back a few minutes later with—wait for it—a handful of lemon wedges. No saucer, no bowl, just a bunch of lemon wedges. In his hand. He plopped them down on the table with a nod, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Again, it was odd.

For what it’s worth, that particular odd lemon service moment was in the US.

Things can get weird at any moment, in any place. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point.

From my writer’s notebook: Several months ago, I mentioned that a Van Gogh painting had been stolen from a museum in The Netherlands. There was an interesting development this week—a famous Dutch detective received ‘proof of life’ photos (the kind you’ve seen on television shows about kidnappings) of the painting. The painting was photographed with a copy of the May 30th New York Times. Another photo showed the back of the painting, which museum authorities said was not a publicly available image.

Apparently this has never happened before in an art theft. 

Again, odd.

Take care,


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