4.1 Spring 2022

April 21, Great snack debate

“Excuse me,” called a chipper voice. Wendy leaned around the partition and said, “I need to talk to you.”

I know this is just her style, but every time she says that my heart stops.

“I have two things to tell you. First, I ran into the fourth grade teacher because we live in the same apartment. She wanted to explain that snacks are hard biscuits in Korean.”

Last week, I had talked about the meaning of “snacks” with the kids while the homeroom teacher squinted at me from the back. It’s not breakfast, lunch, or dinner but the small food you eat between meals.

“So is pork soup a snack?”


“Is fried chicken a snack?”


“I– wait, what?”

The kids told me that sweet and sour pork, fried chicken, and pizza were snacks. I was confused; if these were snacks, wouldn’t we all be a lot fatter?

The homeroom teacher pulled me aside after class to say that snacks were hard biscuits and that sometimes Koreans eat pizza as a snack. I pretended to understand before moving on to my next class.

Apparently, the Konglish word 스넥 (suh-nek) just means cookies. “Snack” itself is often translated to 과자 (gwa-ja). But 과자 means pre-packaged junk food like chips or cookies. The textbook translates “snack” as 간단한 식사 which literally means “simple meal”. So as you can see, this is neither a linguistic nor cultural one-to-one.

“In Korea, pizza and foreign food can be a snack. But not rice and side dishes,” Wendy said.

Of course. Rice could never be a snack. Only Korean meals qualify as real meals.

“Oh and the second thing is, the manager in administration wants to know if you want to receive your severance every year or all at once when you leave.”

I could feel the wrinkle between my eyebrows that has plagued me since twenty-four grow deeper.

Severance is the payment I receive after I have severed ties with a Korean company. Why on earth would I get severance every year instead of as one lump sum when I, you know, leave? That sounds suspicious.

Plus, severance is based on the average pay of the last three months of working. Since my salary increases every year, is the manager trying to cheat me out of money by paying severance yearly instead of in my final year when my salary is highest?

“Uh… yeah, I’d rather just get it at the end. Like I’m supposed to…”

It did make me worry; if he’s trying this, what other pay-related problems might I run into? But aside from the tax confusion (it turns out I do owe tax after all), I’ve been paid correctly and on time since the beginning.

“Yeah, I really don’t know why he asked but he insisted I get your opinion. He’s crazy.” Wendy concluded. “Crazy” has a much more intense meaning in Korea than the US so she must really dislike him.

Jack and MJ chimed in with some choice words; apparently this admin manager, who made me cry once, is hated unanimously. Two of the admin staff are leaving this year but he’s staying behind, much to everyone’s disappointment.

“Okay. I’ll tell him. I don’t know why he asked. Anyway, bye,” she said, sliding the tasseled partition back into place and effectively ending our conversation.

So, just another Thursday.

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