Korean Oddities

I’m going to use this blog to just start listing some of the cultural oddities that Koreans have. At least, odd in the sense that they’re different from America.

  • You know the little limp-wristed wave you use to wave goodbye to a little kid? That’s “come here” in Korea. The first time my boss did that to me I just kind of sat there and looked at him really weirdly. It took him three tries before he just said “come here”.
  • Remove your shoes at the door. Always. Once when Mr. Lee was in my apartment,  I was getting ready to leave so I had my shoes on and he let a little “Aiiyeee!” when he saw them. Big no no, even for a silly miguk (American).
  • Be prepared to sit on the floor at restaurants. All authentic Korean restaurants that serve anything above “fast food” will have tables about a foot off the floor. Restaurants that serve Western food will all have regular tables and chairs, though. Some restaurants may offer both floor and regular tables. If you go with Koreans, they won’t even consider not sitting on the floor.
  • Don’t lay your chopsticks directly on the table. The table is “dirty”. The floor, however, is not.
  • Dog is still eaten by people in Korea. Not only is it delicious, but also apparently good for you. I don’t know if there’s science to support this, but it’s a widely held belief that dog meat is good for you. Even people who don’t particularly like dog meat, or kaegolgi, will eat it several times a year, just to keep their pipes running smoothly.
  • Cats are not eaten in Korea.
  • In fact, cats aren’t a very common pet here. Several people I’ve talked to say that Koreans are unsettled by their eyes. Also, pointy claws are hurt-y. Every Korean I’ve told that I like cats seems really surprised.
  • Koreans are extremely competitive. This has contributed to the country’s growing problem in addiction to video games. Yes, this is a legitimate concern in this country. There have been numerous stories of people dying, or their children dying, after extended gaming periods.
  • Korean men aren’t nearly as concerned with maintaining a masculine image. At least, not what a Westerner would think of as masculine. A lot of young guys are all about skinny jeans, feminine hair cuts, carrying bags that look suspiciously like purses, and I’ve even seen one guy putting on lip gloss. Despite this, most Koreans will insist that there are no gay people in Korea.
  • On a related note, two guys showing affection towards each other is a lot more common. Particularly amongst kids and older men. It’s completely normal to see school aged kids or elderly men walking down the street holding hands. For no goddamn reason at all. They’re just friends.
  • Also, being naked around each other is another normal Korean activity. Jjimjilbangs are public saunas/bath houses where men and women (in separate areas) can hang out in the nude getting sweaty 24 hours a day if they so choose. Also, the natural curiosity of Koreans will tend to make it seem like people are checking out your junk. They just want to see what kind of heat you’re packing.
  • Dating is different in Korea. First of all, there’s a lot of pressure on Korean women to get married before they turn 30 years old. Secondly, while Americans may date 2-3 year before they pop the question, Koreans tend to do it much sooner. Usually under a year. Koreans actually think it’s bad to know someone too well before you marry them. I’m not sure exactly why. Meeting the parents is an even bigger deal for Koreans. If a girl brings a guy home to her family, it’s completely normal for the parents to ask them when they’re getting married. It’s expected that if the relationship is serious enough to bring the parents into it that the two must’ve already decided on a marriage date.
  • The parents have almost the completely final say in whether or not a marriage is green for go. If they disapprove, that generally means it won’t be happening in this lifetime. Recently, Korean children have been so ballsy so as to actually get pregnant out of wedlock just to force their hand. In Korea, particularly for a single woman, to be a single parent is a very negative cultural brand.
  • Interracial dating is fairly common from what I’ve noticed, but it’s complicated. Koreans are varied on their attitude. Some find it okay, some aren’t for it, and some would rather die than see their daughter marry a foreigner. Part of this is due to the Korean’s pride in their homogeneous ancestry and their pure blood, but it’s also due to extremely close family ties. Koreans worry that if their son/daughter marries a foreigner that they will be taken back to the States never to be seen again. It’s a legitimate concern, since someone in the situation is going to have to sacrifice the closeness to their family.
  • Grandparents are generally the default daycare provider for the grandchildren because it’s completely normal for both parents in Korea to work. Just another reason why Koreans have qualms about marrying a foreigner. The grandparent/child relationship is a particularly strong relationship. If I ask a class of 15 students what they did over the weekend, six or seven will say that they went to their grandparents’ house.
  • Koreans seem to have a pretty good sense of dental hygiene. Most of the kids and teachers at school have toothbrushes and toothpaste that stay at school just so they can brush after lunch.
  • In contrast, braces aren’t very common here, though it’s not like no one could benefit from them.
  • It’s common to joke about “Korean time”. In Korea, punctuality isn’t a huge hang-up. I think unless it’s a super important meeting, that it’s completely acceptable to show up fifteen minutes late for something.
  • Related to “Korean time” is the Korean “next time”. A lot of times Koreans will tell me “Next time”… we will do X or Y or Z thing that they think would be fun or interesting or informational for me. This does not literally mean next time. This means “later”. At first I was confused because I didn’t know if they meant literally the next time I saw them, or the same time next week, or what, but it just means later.
  • Koreans don’t have the notion of splitting a check when you eat out. It’s understood that it’s just natural for one person to pay and everyone takes turns paying for everyone else.

More in a later post as I learn more.

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