Tonight we went to my wife’s Christmas party at Outback Steakhouse in Seoul. It’s the first time I’ve been to Outback since my wife and I went to the one close to our home in the Seattle area a few years ago for our anniversary. This is inconsequential until you consider that Korea has scores of Outback Steakhouses, and they’re extremely popular here. It seems easier to find an Outback here than a McDonald’s. Why? Because Koreans love steak and lobster. The Outback menu is tailored made for the Korean palatte, epitomizing what many Koreans consider to be the best of western cuisine. Despite being headquartered in Tampa, Florida, the company also plays up its Australian image and reinforces the interestingly relationship Australians have with the two Koreas. I find it ironic that Outback Steakhouse is an American restaurant chain that serves Australian beef in Korea (U.S. beef is currently banned in Korea but may be available again soon).
Outback Steakhouse reminded me of an interesting phenomenon in Korea–the immense popularity of certain western brands. While their competitors may also sell product in Korea, certain western brands have established a very strong presence in Korea and have significant local brand recognition. For example, Black Angus recently opened in Korea, but it faces an uphill battle against its primary competitor, Outback. TGI Friday’s restaurants are also prevalent. Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins (along with Dunkin Donuts, a division of Allied Domecq), Starbucks, and 7-11 have also established a strong presence in Korea. Interestingly, Burger King is also very popular in Korea, perhaps as popular as McDonald’s. It seems that brand building in Korea is as important as the product itself. Take donuts, for example. Many Americans would agree that Krispy Kreme sells a better tasting donut than does Dunkin’ Donut. Koreans tend to prefer moderately sweetened pastries. However, they make an exception when it comes to eating Dunkin’ Donuts’ donuts. Krispy Kreme may have the better donut, but it will hard pressed to overtake Dunkin’ Donuts in the Korean market. Dunkin’ Donuts sells a known product already popular with Koreans, and they will not switch to Krispy Kreme lightly. Starbucks and The Coffee Bean have experienced similar success in Korea. Seattle’s Best Coffee, Caribou Coffee, and any number of U.S. coffee houses with aspirations for the Korean market will have a difficult time stealing market share away from Starbucks or The Coffee Bean.
Note to AngelineTay: Why did I dress as Santa Claus? Well, for one, we had a Santa suit available at work, and I thought it would be fun for the kids if I dressed up as Santa. Secondly, even though it was a Christmas Party, it isn’t truly a Christmas celebration. It was a company party with Christmas trappings. We’re saving our Christmas celebration for Sunday, December 25. (We did pray before the meal, though.) Thirdly, in all honesty, and by no means meant to be tongue-in-cheek, I would make a terrible Baby Jesus. I’m much closer in appearance to Santa than I am to Baby Jesus. Maybe I could have been a Wise Man, but then I’d either have had to find two other Wise Men or be all three at once (in 2001, I bought my wife gold, frankincense, and myrrh for Christmas during our trip to Egypt).
I am all too aware of how commercialized Christmas has become, centered around Santa Claus and gift giving. Once upon a time, the legend of Santa Claus grew out of the story of St. Nicholas, a monk who lived during the Third Century A.D. in modern-day Turkey, whose benevolence was a manifest of his Christian faith (the name Santa Claus is derived from Sinter Klaas, the Dutch name for St. Nicholas). Few people remember that December 6, the day of his death, is the day when St. Nicholas is traditionally honored. Perhaps it would be better if Santa Claus and all the commercialization that goes with him moved to December 6 instead of December 25.
I wonder sometimes too whether Christ’s birth should be celebrated in the spring (circa April), when Jesus was more likely to have been born given the approximate date of the Roman Census that brought Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem when Mary was full term.