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Tiny Towel Culture


When my family visited Korea, we stayed at Lotte Hotel in Seoul for the first leg of our visit. The hotel was a luxury spot which had an indoor driving range, spa facilities with separate sauna and steam rooms, bath tubs the size of pools, each with its own regulated temperature: hot (scalding), hot (bearable), lukewarm, cold (as in tap water), cold (frigid). Colored lights in the tubs peered through the water, setting a festive mood. Huge towels wrapped around you three or more times.

Some members of my family wanted the royal treatment; some wanted the real deal so a compromise consisted of a transfer a week into our trip to a homestay in Suwan. For a more authentic cultural experience, a cheerful grandmother, who lived in an apartment typical of Korea, was our host.

The first night of our stay, my thirteen-year-old daughter announced she needed towels for her shower. I saw that there was only a small hand towel in the bathroom so I asked our homestay grandmother for bath towels.

She replied, “There’s one already in there.”

“But there’s only a small hand towel,” I said.

With a look of recognition she let out an apologetic laugh. I was confused. Then it dawned on me: the hand towel WAS the bath towel.

I rushed over to my daughter, who was in the bathroom waiting for her towels. When I delivered the news, she gave me a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me look. I pumped my fist to cheer her on: “You can do it!”

“Maaaa, how do you exp…” I shut the bathroom door before she could protest further. Given the girl soaked up two full-sized bath towels after a shower, I wasn’t sure I believed my own cheer.

Turns out Koreans don’t use dryers. The cost of electricity is high and, well, it appears to me to be cultural. Since larger towels take longer to dry on the clotheslines, our homestay grandmother reasoned that smaller towels made more sense.

I was a bit nervous when it was time for my shower. I had to use two hand towels but I did it! I felt accomplished as though I had hiked up a mountain. Am I adept or what? Or would that be spoiled?

Who knew towels sizes differ from country to country? During our visit, some members of my family wanted luxury; others wanted a more authentic cultural experience. Which would you have chosen?

#Korea #American #KoreanAmerican #Seoul

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