This afternoon you could find me in the Homeplus supermarket surreptitiously trying to smell rolls of toilet paper through the plastic bag holding them together. I felt like a giant weirdo and kept glancing over my shoulder to see if anyone was staring at the oddball foreigner.
Before you think I am a complete nut, let me give some back story.
Wednesday Night: Cashi’s apartment.
I come over to Cashi’s apartment for dinner and before I can get in more than a casual greeting, Cashi says, “You need to smell my toliet paper.”
I sniff the roll she is holding in her hand. “UGH! What is that?” The smell is so awful, like some kind of mix of artificial flowers and, as Cashi puts it, “Cheap perfume gone wrong.”
Cashi looks annoyed. “I spent 13,000 won (about $12 USD) on this pack of 36 rolls of toilet paper. I didn’t realized it was the scented kind! But who would want this scent! It’s disgusting. You don’t happen to want it, do you?”
“Well, after you’ve said that, let me think about it…. Nope!”
Later Cashi drags me to the little grocery store by her house and together we try to smell the toilet paper through the plastic. We know that we look like complete weirdos. However, since it is too much of an effort to translate every Korean word on the packaging to determine if a pack is scented or not, we attempt the sniff test. We find a pack that seems all right and a decent price so she buys it.
It is a success! Cashi leaves the offending toilet paper package outside her apartment building at night and the next morning it is gone, probably picked up by an Ajumma. (An Ajumma is an older Korean lady. See here for more details about ajummas.)
Flashforward to today. A bit earlier into my shopping adventure, while I was comparing brands of contact Lens Solution, I hear voices near me chant in unison “(??????) An-nyung-ha-shim-ni-kka” which is a polite form of Hello in Korean. I turn around to see 10 store employees all bowing to me.
I bob/duck my head into what I suppose you can take as an awkward bow (I never know how to bow properly) and then I watch as they parade down the store greeting more customers.
Only in Korea would you have 10 store employees going around greeting you as you meander through the store.
When I finally made my way over to the toilet paper section and attempted the sniff test I felt awkward. I didn’t see the brand my friend bought and couldn’t remember the brand I bought when I first moved here. Would the 10 employees suddenly pop out of nowhere and greet me again? How strange do people think I am trying to smell toilet paper through the plastic bag?
I felt eyes boring into the back of my head. Never in my life have I experienced such anxiety trying to buy this product. I gave up my “subtle” sniff test and decided on a brand based on the fact there is no flowers to be seen on the packaging.
Later, when I got home I opened the package with trepidation.
Yes! Normal, unscented toilet paper!