The Dining Table as a Cultural Artifact- Sarah Kim

The dining table is seen as an ordinary and typical item in most if not all household. However, this tables holds a cultural significance and is an important part of our family culture. I decided to go to my grandmother’s apartment for this assignment. Coincidently, my mother wanted me to pick her up from my grandmother’s apartment and my whole family stopped by for dinner. The reason I chose to study the uses and purposes of my grandmother’s dining table is because my grandmother introduced me to the Korean culture and helped me establish my Korean identity. As a second-generation immigrant, meaning children born in America with parents who were born outside of the United States, I assume the identity of a Korean-American. At first it was hard to find my place between my American and Korean cultures. However, my grandmother advised I embrace both and find friends similar to me. My grandmother taught me about Korean culture and exposed me to many traditional Korean dishes. I remember eating my favorite Korean dishes on her dining table as she asked how my day was. Just to give a little description of my grandmother’s dining table is a foldable one and we open the table whenever it is needed. It is a medium-sized wooden table that my grandma found at Home Depot, according to my grandmother. I used the anthropological method of participant observation. I also asked questions while we were eating dinner, but I did not have the time to interview my grandmother separately.

As a family, we set up the dining table. First, we put down the napkins and eating utensils. Then, we would set up the banchan, or side dishes in Korean. Finally, the main dish comes in, in this case, it was Samgye-tang. or ginseng chicken soup. My mother was having a hard time during work, so my grandmother cooked this soup so that replenish her. This setting up of the dining table was very interesting. Whenever we went to a restaurant, whether it is Korean, Chinese, or Italian, the table is always set up in this order. We waited for my grandmother to take her first bite and then we started to enjoy the meal. Filial piety, respect for elders and parents, is very important in our family. In Korean culture, we use honorifics to adults or people we are not familiar with. When we start eating, we also start up conversations ranging from school to work to any concerns we have. During the meal, I asked my grandmother what other uses she has for this table. She told me stories and happy memories regarding the table. Apparently, it was where I learned how to write my name in Pre-kindergarten and when I used a whole tube of red lipstick on my face. My grandmother told me she almost had a heart attack after seeing me like that. She also uses the table to practice writing her name in English. I saw pieces of loose-leaf paper in the corner of the table with her name written repeatedly. She also has small tea parties with her friends in the morning on the table. My grandmother told me the only thing grandmothers talk about is their grandchildren. It is funny how when I meet grandmother’s friends, they know me, but I sometimes do not have any clue as to who they are. After the meal, as a family, we cleaned up the table and then had fruits for dessert.

Through this assignment, I was able to see my family’s dinner on the dining table as an enlightening experience. I was able to realize that the dining table holds a significant place in each person of my family. Through having a certain space to do eat encourages you to converse with those in the same space as you. The conversations we have at the dining table provide us a chance to get to know each other more. Family is supposed to be the people who are the closest to you, yet there are many families where they do not know their children or their parents well. This small table allows us to see how much our siblings matured, discuss concerns and give advices. Moreover, the table allows for a familiar communal space. Since most households have a dining table, even at a stranger’s house we feel familiar and comfortable in this area. This relatively inexpensive and insignificant dining table helps us create eventful memories with family, provides bonding experiences, and educates us.




One Reply to “The Dining Table as a Cultural Artifact- Sarah Kim”

  1. Sarah, this is a beautifully written piece. I’m touched by your openness and honesty. You’ve addressed all the questions raised in the prompt. Two areas you might want to work further upon–working with course materials and connecting them to your own experience. I would encourage you to use the texts we’ve discussed in class, and to bear them upon your discussions of your grandmother’s dining table.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *