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How Have You Become More Korean?

December 3, 2015


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Hi everyone!

So, I’d like to start by addressing the complexity of the title, which I’m sure some people are going to be up in arms about (I’m looking at you, Tumblr). Basically, let me start by saying that I don’t know how to phrase this topic. Let me explain some of the ideas behind it, and then maybe you can help me understand how to conceptualize it:

Basically, as we’ve suggested in this video, we’ve been living in Korea for over 7 years now, and it’s impacted us in many ways. It’d be ridiculous for it NOT to have changed us. Anywhere you live changes the kind of person you are. My parents moved to Canada from Poland and became more Canadian, and we moved to Korea from Canada and became more Korean. But, obviously, we haven’t become more Korean in ethnicity. That’s impossible. If you’re not born with it, you’ll never have it. I get that. But Korean is more than just an ethnicity, as anyone living in Korea will tell you. We have friends of Korean ethnicity that have lived overseas for the entirety of their lives, and when they go back to Korea they’re sometimes told that they’re “not Korean enough.” Well, what does “enough” mean? Korean isn’t a binary of you either are or are not. There’s a gradient in there. And that’s what we’re trying to get at here. Though we will never identify as “Korean” in ethnicity, it’d be stubborn to ignore how that gradient has colored our lives and our habits, so that’s what we’re trying to talk about here. Is that fair? I hope so.

And now, moving on to other ways in which this gradient is now part of us:


Or should I say, parking. We’ve driven the Eatyourkimchi Mobile for over 10000km in Korea now, and holy hot shit I will never get used to how bad driving in Korea is here. The lack of signalling, the running of reds and jamming of intersections, the changing of lanes without checking blindspots, the making of left hand turns from the rightmost lane, the parking WHEREVER THE FUCK THEY WANT TO PARK without consideration of anyone else: no, I have not adopted any of those habits, and I’m infuriated by them on a daily basis when I drive. What I have adopted, though, is Korea’s superior parking skills. Where Korea lacks in driving it makes up for in parking. Whoa. I can now reverse park my car into freaking ANYTHING. Seriously: the parking spots here are so tight that I oftentimes literally cannot open my door to get out afterwards. If I’m with Martina, I let her out first and then park. But I’ve never scratched another car ever. I’m that damned good. I can’t drive into a parking spot to save my life, but I can reverse park like a demi-god.

Accepting Business Cards

Holy crap is this ever a silly one and I apologize if it’s a bit too simple, but I’m ultra conscientious when I accept business cards from someone. Take it with two hands, bow like I always bow at freaking everything, read the card thoroughly, flip it over, read that sign as well. There’s nothing smooth or subtle about how I accept business cards. That’s how I was told that I should accept business cards here, and everyone I know does it and I get nervous whenever I get new cards. Interestingly, though: I don’t have any business cards of my own. I don’t really believe in having them. I’d like to work with people that know who we are. If you have to give someone a business card, then they don’t know who you are, and then you have to explain who you are, and then there can be misunderstanding. If you already know who we are, though, then there’s a much better chance that we could work together easily. See what I mean?


This isn’t something we’re proud of, but it’s something that – as small business owners – kind of came out of necessity. And it’s something that really struck us a couple of weeks ago when we were in Tokyo. We were speaking with a YouTuber named Jason from Hong Kong. As we were drinking together, we saw that he was getting significantly drunker than us. In fact, we were barely buzzed. And he told us that there’s a saying in Hong Kong, supposedly: never drink with someone from either China, Taiwan, or Korea, because you’ll get messed up. And I thought, really? Yet as I saw him slowly tipping over the edge, and I could still probably juggle chainsaws just fine if I wanted to, I realized that the years we’ve spent in Korea have really bolstered our alcohol tolerance. We don’t get drunk anymore. Is that a Korean thing, or is that just a responsible drinking thing? I don’t know, but I definitely can say that pre-Korea Simon was a lightweight. This Simon now, alcohol has no power over.

Posing for Pictures

We’re not the most beautiful people out there, so smiling won’t cut it for a good pictures with us. We need to pose, and hot-damn do we ever have that down pat. We’ll do the V’s beside our faces, we’ll poke our cheeks, we’ll cover our cheeks, we’ll do hearts, we’ll do it all. Thank you Korea for not only teaching us how to do this to hide our unimpressive looks, but also for making it so second-nature in us that we don’t even think about it anymore.


DON’T BE A BARBARIAN! TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF WHEN YOU’RE IN THE HOUSE COME ON NOW!! Ok no you’re not a barbarian if you wear shoes indoors, but we feel really gross now wearing shoes inside. Even when we visited friends who told us to keep our shoes on we took them off. It felt weird. And we shout at the TV when we see people wearing shoes indoors, especially in bed. IN BED?! HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT ARE YOU CRAZY?! Ok I need to breathe. Ahhhh. And, yes, I know this isn’t distinctly a Korean thing, but it never bothered me that much when I lived in Canada. Now, even if I’m running into the house for something important, like to grab my wallet or take an explosive poop, I’ll still take off my shoes. I wasn’t that strict before.

Ok, that’s it for our list. If you’ve grown up in one place and moved somewhere else, how has that new place affected you? I’d love to hear it! I think with international travel being so much easier now than it is before, our sense of cultural identity is becoming so much more fluid than it ever was, and even though the bigotry and racism of xenophobes might get in the way sometimes, this generation is dissolving borders at a really fast rate. Well, I think so at least.



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How Have You Become More Korean?


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  1. I lived in France for over a year while in college. It was an incredible experience, but I did notice some changes in how I acted, etc. after living there.
    1. Lack of smiling: You just don’t smile much in French culture. This is not to say that the French aren’t friendly or caring, but grinning/smiling is just not a normal way to interact with people you don’t know or don’t know well. North Americans default to smiles when they meet someone, so this was a change I didn’t even realize I’d lost until I returned home to the States.
    2. Greeting shop keepers: it’s considered very bad form to not greet clerks or store owners when you enter a place of business. Before living in Paris I would never acknowledge sales clerks with a formal greeting until I needed their help or they approached me. To this day (30 years later), I still greet the workers in a shop or store as I enter! Speaking of which, the concept of “the customer is always right” doesn’t exist in France. Smiles and greetings notwithstanding, you better be darn sure about a purchase before you buy because most places don’t do returns. Staff in stores seem to be doing you a favor by taking your money for a purchase, and it’s not unusual to almost need to beg to find someone to make a purchase at one of the big department stores. I got so used to surly or ambivalent shopkeepers that it was shocking when I returned home and got friendly, helpful service in a timely fashion. You actually learn to adapt and plan your clothing/makeup shopping to take much longer than it would in North America.
    3. Touching the displays: you NEVER touch the items on display in a store! You tell the clerk what size or color you are interested in and they will bring it to you for inspection. Americans tend to enter and touch, pull, mangle everything–which the French see as barbaric. It is the same at the market; you tell the vendor what you want (i.e. .5 kilo of tomatoes) and you get what they give you… No handling of the produce by you, or selecting which fruit you want (although you *can* request them to give you something ripe today v. tomorrow)

    4 years ago
    • Oh, forgot to mention the kissing greeting thing! Took me months to get out of the habit of wanting to air kiss everyone I met, much to the astonishment of my fellow college students. It’s a lovely way of greeting but it is just so ‘weird’ here!

      4 years ago
  2. I know you guys aren’t doing much with the t-shirts right now, but I just have to say that I think the crying tomato would make a cute t-shirt. Just saying :)

    4 years ago
  3. It is funny the you mention the bowing thing because I’ve always had a facination with Asian culture since I was really young, so for like 15-20 some years I’ve always watched movies, dramas, and music videos from China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Korea, and many more. I noticed once I started to work frequently I did bow a little when meeting new people, or saying hi to customers. I don’t think it was too “weird” since no one has ever pointed it out to me.. it was just something I started to notice. I also speak in higher pitch voice when working with customers, which again I think might be influenced by Japanese culture. It is very weird since it isn’t like I lived in any of these places. So no, I don’t think you guys will ever stop bowing.

    4 years ago
    • I was just about to say the same thing. I totally picked up bowing just from dramas, etc. I catch myself doing it but nobody has said anything to me about it. It is just the little ‘chicken bow’ just like Simon and Martina described.

      4 years ago
      • oh god I totally took the bow too, i’ve been watching anime and drama for about 10 years now, and i’m always doing the little chicken bow when I meet someone new, even if I’ve never lived outside canada!

        (oh crap it has really been 10 years, I feel old now)

        3 years ago
  4. I’ve been to Korea twice but only as a tourist so I haven’t picked up on the culture. And I must say, perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in Singapore my whole life but liking kpop and being exposed to Korean culture by reading and watching variety shows (I don’t like kdramas), hasn’t changed the way I behave. I’m more interested in Korean culture now and I’m studying Korean on my own but nothing else has changed in the 6 years I’ve been exposed to it.

    I do hope to one day live abroad though! Hopefully in Korea but anywhere would be fun too. I feel your perspective of life changes and you will open your eyes to so many new things once you live abroad.

    4 years ago
  5. I’ve been living in the USA for 13 years. I’m originally from Argentina. I moved here when I was 10. Although that is an age wherr you’re easily influenced anyway, I still feel like this country changed me a lot. In my country people are verryyy friendly and can easily talk to anyone at any time, but here, no one talks to each other. I think if I would have grown up there I wouldn’t have been as shy as I am. Also, people are a lot more polite here? Although people from USA are considered to be rude, in my country people can be a lot more rude. My parents always tell me and my sister that we say “sorry” too much. It is just because in Argentina “sorry” is something very serious that is not used as often? Or maybe it’s my parents. Also I eat dinner a lot later here or it becomes a mix between dinner and lunch, while over there lunch was at 12 and dinner around 7 or 6. I thought I had more to say but I’ve been here so long I don’t know which parts of me changed because of age or cultere, haha. I WISH I HAD YOUR CHOPSTICK SKILLS THOUGH!!!! Maybe one day… :)

    4 years ago
  6. My bowing began in Middle School. I live in the US but when I started watching kdramas and anime extensively (it’s dwindled a little now) the bowing just sort of stuck with me. I saw it all the time and it seemed normal.

    I still bow today and I’m in college – literally everyone always comments on my bowing. I can’t help it it just happens. I see someone, I bow. I meet someone, I bow. it’s ingrained in my system and it gets annoying when people comment on it.

    4 years ago
  7. I’m Australian, but I recently moved to Singapore. Already I’m noticing changes, I’m more comfortable walking around at night (my “safety radar” has been broken!) and I definitely eat more rice!

    4 years ago
    • I’m Singaporean and I’m glad to hear about the night thing! Maybe soon you’ll find yourself picking up our local language (singlish) ^^

      4 years ago
  8. I am….genetically half Mexican and half Caucasian. What am I? American. My friend who was born in Guatemala? American. Chinese lady who runs the Asian store in town? American. Italian brothers who were in my Nursing class? American. Genetically different. Still American. So, it seems strange to me that people who move to another country (like Korea for example) are always considered foreigners even if they give up their citizenship in their homeland. The way I look at it…if you are an official citizen of (Korea). You are (Korean). Honestly, I don’t identify as Mexican OR white. Or even particularly as an American. I’m just a person. The world is a small place. I kinda feel like America is just my neighborhood.

    The bowing thing? I’ve never traveled outside of America, but I watch a lot of Asian movies and dramas and…..I do the bowing thing too.

    4 years ago
  9. I relate SO MUCH! I am Egyptian-American and although I was born in America I grew up in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I would say i’ve become more American than anything else, but one thing that will always stick around is driving. Now I didn’t learn how to drive in Dubai or Egypt but I sure as hell remember it. Driving in Egypt is similar to what you’ve described in Korea but 1,000 times worse. Along with no blinkers and sudden turns and lane changes, there is no speed limit, and at night nobody uses their headlights. NOBODY! Recently I went to Egypt for a visit and realised that in the entire week I was there I only saw ONE set of stop lights. And of course nobody paid any attention to it.
    But I can attribute my confident driving to those experiences, I’m not afraid of driving like most of my american friends are. Im superior at driving in the snow from my experiences in off roading in the desert. its surprisingly similar just not cold and icy, but its just as slippery and crazy.
    I also am completely desensitised to fancy expensive cars like Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s, seeing those kinds of cars was a daily thing, seeing them wrecked on the side of the road was also daily…
    And one thing that I think or at least hope that everyone who lives abroad understands is cultural sensitivity. I didn’t grow up Muslim but the countries I lived in were majority Muslim and I now respect the religion and understand it in ways most people don’t. Not only the religion but the people and their life styles.

    4 years ago
  10. The topic of past life memories and hereditary memories fascinates me concerning customs. I have many Asia past life memories, which have been recognized by some martial arts teachers because of taking to martial arts like a fish to water. I was raised in Southern California and I have always eaten white rice, and I’m sorry, but chop sticks suck compared to European cutlery, although all my European lives really sucked because they were short, dirty, and disease ridden.

    Nothing beats a Lazy Boy, period. If I had had a Lazy Boy all throughout my human lives, they would have all been much higher quality.

    Here in Oregon there’s nothing better than a floor heated by a thermal well, but the thoughts of a volcano erupting near by is always a concern.

    Because bowing is so ingrained in my soul, it came naturally when living in Asia, even though my current DNA is Swiss/German.

    4 years ago
  11. Loved the video! It was a cool topic that you both explored and your experience really shows that you will gain more than you expect when living abroad/in a new area.

    Regarding your question, I’ve had two moves abroad, but I also acquired several habits when I travel. One habit that I distinctly remember having a hard time shaking off was the South Asian head nod. It was a habit I picked up when I lived in Bangladesh, although I grew up with Indian neighbors in Malaysia. I think I picked it up more in Bangladesh since it was a constant gesture during my time there. When I recently went to India this past summer, the head nod gesture came back, like a natural old friend. I would describe the head nod as “…” as a physical gesture.

    Moving to America, I think one of the biggest things I noticed about myself is that I’m not afraid to talk on the phone in public, especially in public transportation. I don’t think it is a thing in Malaysia so I initially thought it was really rude when I first arrived. After a while, I mustered up enough confidence to have a conversation with someone in a bus via my cellphone.

    4 years ago
  12. Travel is the amazing thing that it is because it challenges our preconceived notions about everything.

    I’m from India,and in the atmosphere of growing intolerance in our country, I think preconceived notions are the worst.

    Loved the video! :D

    4 years ago
  13. I’ve lived in two states in the US- first Indiana (where I was born and raised) and now in California. I have never even left the country, but I picked up the habit of bowing from taking Japanese class for 3 years in high school, and 2 semesters in college! I don’t do it ALL the time, but it definitely happens. My high school Japanese class is long behind me, and it’s even been about 4 years since the college courses, but it’s still hung on. It specifically comes out stronger if I’m at a restaurant or a shop where I hear the workers or other guests speaking Japanese, I will tend to bow to them and say a polite farewell if I’m leaving. I always feel a little weird about it, but they always seem really pleased that someone is trying, you know? I also had picked up the love for a bowl of sticky white rice, and chopsticks (if you’re trying to lose weight, chopsticks are a pretty decent tool for eating slower!).

    I really enjoyed this video! I thought this was a really interesting topic. Even moving from state to state has changed other things about me (driving in IN vs CA, I’m a WAY crazier driver now, hot sauce, the kinds of food I eat), so I can only imagine moving from country to country where culturally things are generally very different would really change some things about you. As always, thank you for the very interesting video!

    4 years ago
  14. I love ptasie mleczko :3
    I live in Scotland (Polish) and I love when people are satanding in a queue on bus stop. Bus driver will stop the bus in front of first person, then everybody waiting until people will get off – very very very very polite! I will miss this when I’ll go back to Poland.

    4 years ago
  15. I was in an Asian country for a month, came back and continued to bow to people for at least a year, probably two.

    It isn’t necessarily you having found out that chopsticks are the best utensils, more like getting so used to it that you’ve forgotten how to use the exact same things with a fork:P But it really depends on what you’re eating. Soup? Spoon all the way. The fork/spoon combo is great, btw.

    4 years ago
  16. Addendum: I think what traveling has done to me the most is give me perspective on people’s deeply held opinions. The more you travel, the more you see very different views on similar issues. It makes you more tolerant, which is a good thing, but it also reduces the things that I may deeply believe in. It seems absurd to have a deeply held belief when you know about other people who have a completely opposite belief.

    4 years ago
  17. I hand over money with two hands when I’m in an Asian businesses. I do the bow thing a lot when I’m traveling too.

    I have social cards as well as business cards. I don’t mind when I hand them over. Handing over the social card is a quick and easy way to give my contact details to someone I’ve just met.

    I definitely favour using chopsticks although when I eat Thai food (which I do a lot), I prefer to use a spoon as a lot of Thai food doesn’t suit chopsticks. And I really miss rice if I go a few days without it. Then again I really miss bread and Korean bakeries are too sweet for me.

    4 years ago
  18. This is not something that I gain from moving to another country. Fortunately, in Indonesia, there are too many cultures to delved with. So, say that I visit Bali for 10 days, I will definitely need to adjust to Balinese culture (which is very different from Javanese). I will then take some Balinese culture with me when I go back to my town. It even happens when I went to West Java (I live in Central Java). All of them speak Indonesian but also local languages. The greetings are different from one province to another, the common courtesy also a bit different. It will go over the top if you move between islands. The dialects are also really challenging to understand.
    And funny things: our grandparents or great grandparents are usually grew up with the Dutch culture. So everytime I meet elderly people, it is common courtesy too make cheek-to-cheek kisses. I even do this with my father and mother. However, it is not common for people in the twenties. ヾ(。>﹏<。)ノ゙✧*。

    4 years ago
  19. I’ve been teaching in Korea for a year and a half and I can totally relate with some of the things you said. I also 100% agree that using chopsticks for cake and salad are superior to a fork. Something that I have found I do is I am constantly making that non committal grunting noise to show that I am paying attention to something or agreeing with someone. I hope that makes sense, I don’t know how else to explain it. XD

    4 years ago
    • I’ve totally picked up that same closed-mouth “nn” sound (like a Korean version of “mm-hmm”) and that’s just from years of tutoring Korean students. In America. ^_^

      4 years ago
  20. I moved from Germany with my family when I was already a kid but not a teen yet. I am mega confused in some things when we go back to Germany. We moved to Norway. So from a decently populated country to a country with 5 mil people. Well since I was a kid when I moved there’s a lot on the formal side which I didn’t learn properly, so in Germany you have this formal way of addressing people you meet instead of the normal ‘you’ they you something that says ‘thee’ I think works to explain it. Anyway you’re supposed to use it when you talk to someone you don’t know or maybe your teacher something like that. But me living in a country were you say ‘you’ to everyone accept maybe the king I can’t say it, it feels wrong. But I don’t feel like Norway has changed me as much as it should’ve since I grew into an adult here, but I sort of felt like a watcher, sitting outside looking in. I could tell you a few differences from country to country but changes in myself. It’s hard to say since I grew up and would’ve changed anyway how much Norway did one can’t know. But Norway is definitely a more ‘personal’ country, it can afford to be.Schools are able to give some kids more attention, that kind of stuff. A principal of a school of hundred people can afford to know every student’s name. I’ve lived on the countryside in both countries and used to living a bit far away from things. Though ‘a bit’ I’m used to in Norway might mean 3km until the next store, so cars are pretty key. When I enter a shop I start thinking if I should limit it to 3 things this time, or if I should just buy one thing. Norway is expensive, but for that people do earn a lot, but as a student, you don’t and then it gets mean. Everything costs so you try to hamster things like soda stream flavours to make your own cola or orange soda.

    The Trash *dandandaaa*
    Germany has a pretty good system down on sorting trash, I used to be good at separating trash, but now. Tssk. Firstly when we came to Norway there was one trash. ONE for everything, where we had 3 different trash cans in Germany, we now had one. Okay they could separate paper and the other trash, but you didn’t have to. Now they have an extra bag for plastic, buuuuuuut they aren’t that good at putting stuff in it’s right place. And I’ve slightly gone towards that in the school that I currently live, but at home with my parents I take care that I do that.

    Constant English
    In Norway, almost every body knows English, in Germany… Not so much. But even when I talk to german, I sometimes through in a sentence in English or two… Nooooo why….

    Tja smaller countries smaller super marts and smaller selection. That’s that I don’t notice it anymore until we have visitors from Germany.

    4 years ago
  21. I found living in Japan for four months just made me more British. I had to get more teabags shipped in after two months because I’d finished the two hundred box I’d brought with me. My accent also got waaaay stronger, particularly when people couldn’t understand me, which just made things worse :P. I also started going to my office from 09:00 – 17:00 exactly, which I never paid attention to in the UK (I’m an academic, I usually show up whenever I want).
    The only habit I really brought back to the UK was a very un-Japanese one. I’m now much more likely to strike up a conversation with random strangers, because I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Japan. It still feels weird to go out with friends and not join random strangers.

    4 years ago
  22. I’m from Rome, but I’m half Japanese, and I went to an International School…so as you can imagine I was already a complete mess of cultures before I decided to move to the UK for uni. But now I drink tea by the gallons, love an english breakfast (even if it’s not for breakfast!!!) and I can tell the way I speak has changed too. Just in two and a half years! What’s funny though is that I’ve been unconciously influencing my bf too as he now likes to use chopsticks and will happily eat white rice with his meal! I think it’s great that people can appreciate more than one culture :)

    4 years ago
  23. I’m from Brazil and moved to the US when I was ten, living there for eleven years (now I’m back in Brazil cause public universities are free Yay) anyway, I felt the opposite of the rice thing. In Brazil people eat rice and beans everyday. This is considered the only real “food” (with meat and some pasta added maybe, bit the rice and beans are the base) anything else is considered like a heavy snack. I don’t know why. Anyway living so long in the us I got used to eating more than just that (though we still had rice for dinner everyday) and didn’t really see it as that important. Which was a big shock when I came back, and had to readjust to everything again.

    Oh also as a random sidenote, I totally do the bowing thing to everyone, even though I never lived in an Asian country, I attribute this to three years of karate and watching wayyy too many Asian dramas.

    4 years ago
    • I lived in Brazil for a year and when I got back to the US I still was kissing people on the cheek! I think the day after I got back I was introduced to a group of people I didn’t know and I went around the table and kissed everyone on cheek. I didn’t realize until later that that was probably weird for them. It didn’t stay for very long though, but I still greet people from latin america this way!

      4 years ago
  24. I spend around 9 months in Korea, and mostly notice it when i’m working behind a cash register. I keep handing over change with two hands or at least the other hand supporting my elbow. It just feels wrong not to.

    I did get rid of the bowing, well, mostly. Last week I heard some korean being spoken in the grocery store, next thing I knew, the little bow was back.

    4 years ago
  25. Moving has always been a great way to try out new things and get new habits. Even within your own country there can be significant cultural changes. One area being culturally diverse and another being oh so painfully … er.. pale.
    Language differences and food can change as the result of a 7 hour drive down the 401. (I was a little shocked when Simon said he hadn’t had pig knuckles before)
    When I was younger and moved from Quebec to Southern Ontario the culture shock was strong and even simple things like the food had changed. I found fast food was strange as the cheese tastes totally different.
    There is a dark side, you see, I was young and impressionable and there was this exposure to a cult that I’ve yet to shake. Yes… I’m a Leafs fan.

    As an aside… I love you guys and you are great and no offense at all but please…. please clean your lenses or sensor or whatever.

    4 years ago
  26. I loved this video. That’s all I really have to say. I agree that chopsticks are the superior utensil. How do you guys feel about those long-handled Korean spoons? They’re perfect. They’re long like an iced tea spoon but they have a regular-size spoon…part? Scoop? Anyway, I bought some a few weeks ago and started using them for everything. Boyfriend didn’t understand the hype until I handed him one and said “Just try it out.” Now he agrees that long-handled Korean spoon is best spoon.

    4 years ago
    • Oh I understand the hype alright. My father got souvenirs from Korea and one of them is a pair of chopstick and the long-handled spoon. Those are very pricey here in Indonesia. I try using them at once and never stop until now. Indonesian usually only use spoon for eating. We rarely use fork (just for common courtesy). If the rice is hot and no soup involved, we can always use our fingers to eat (extremely great for eating chicken with spicy sambal).

      4 years ago
  27. WooHoo I am first! Yeah you don’t have to leave the country to pick up some of those habits. Catch my self slightly bowing to clients as they leave at work and doing the two handed hand hold or supporting my elbow while handing back money or credit cards. That for me is just watching to many dramas. :(

    4 years ago