me: “Is that spicy?”

everybody: “Yeah, a little.”

me: “Oh, sorry. I can’t eat that. I have a very low tolerance for spicy food.”

everybody: “But you live in Korea.”

me: “Right.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation. One of the things Korea is famous for is the people’s love for spicy food.

So how do I survive? It’s actually not that difficult. I’ve lived in South Korea for two years, and I avoid spicy food at all cost.

Speaking of cost… I may spend more money on western food products at the supermarket, but I’ll take that any day over setting my mouth on fire to save a few bucks.

The times when my low tolerance for spicy food is most difficult is during lunch in my school’s cafeteria. Sometimes everything is spicy. When I have one of those days, I get sympathetic looks from the other teachers, and I eat as much plain white rice as I can.

Some of you may be reading this and wondering why I don’t just drink a lot between bites. In Korean schools, there are two things you don’t get with your meal: napkins and a drink. They drink and wipe their hands after they’ve eaten everything and returned their tray. They wipe their hands with tiny thin tissues and drink tap water out of a tiny tin cup.

The last time my school cafeteria served a spicy meal, my 6th grade co-teacher said, “You know what we call people who can’t eat spicy food in Korea?”

“What?” I asked.

“Baby Tongue.”