SK2USA: Serbuseh


In Korea, retail workers follow you like a shadow throughout the store. Any lip tint that you even glance at will be applied on your hand in thin swatches and then wiped off with a nearby moist towelette. A lot of my friends hate this aspect of Korean shopping. They often feel stalked, even worse is how pushy these attendants can be. One time, a street-peddler was hawking exfoliant that turned my dead skin into water. I already bought a gudetama exfoliant only five minutes prior. She molted me into a puddle and asked, “Will you buy some now?”

“Sure, I’ll buy some later,” I was deflecting.

“Will you really?” her head was bowed down low and looking up towards me like a panther. The thrill of the hunt coursing through her veins and I could almost hear her heart palpitating despite the commotion of the Myeongdong shopping district.

After suffering through this sometimes torrid shopping experience you get a little extra surprise. After putting everything in your paper bag the cashier might throw in little extra goodies. This is called serbuseh (서비스) and it is so wonderful. Serbuseh comes from the English word for “service.” Though, it doesn’t have the same connotation. In America, good customer service is an extra attentiveness and choice side dish suggestions. In Korea, this means free stuff.

These free things tend to be samples of other cosmetics or some small side-dish that they made extra of. The samples at the cosmetics store are most common and what really excites me. It’s typical to get a week’s supply of free samples (sometimes a gamut of toners, emulsions, balms, and spot treatments.)

Your mileage may vary. You either want to go to a lux shopping mecca (Myeongdong or Hongdae come to mind) or a ghost-town where the cosmetics stores get barely any foot traffic. The cashiers will be extra thirsty to meet their quota and offer you many different deals and bargains. Be wary of these types, though, because the deal may “have expired” or “you have to meet different conditions” at the counter.

The most insane amount of serbesuh I ever received was at a Nature Republic near the Hagwon where I work.  They gave me some strange rose-petal body lotion, which I just gifted to a female coworker because I try to look and smell masculine to offset my flaming personality, and a snail mucin face mask. Snail Mucin is a huge trend right now in Korea because it sticks on your face and tightens the shit out of it. I freaked out loudly while juggling the face mask in the air triumphantly. The cashier gave me five more masks as a reward for my obnoxious display.

The stores where I got the best serbesuh was Nature Republic, Innis Free, and Skin Food. Olive Young rarely if ever gives me any serbesuh and if they did, it was paltry and mediocre at best.

We desperately need serbesuh in the USA. Free shit will always give me the reason to return to a store or restaurant.


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