Korean Culture is More Than Just Kimchi

Korean culture is more than just Kimchi. Whenever I watch Korean dramas or movies, I can’t help but wonder why the girls like to address the older men as “Oppa”? Oppa means big brother in Korean. I can somehow accept it when the couples are not married, but even after marriage, the wife still continues to address the husband as oppa is something which I really cannot comprehend.

Koreans are a very group oriented people. The reason for saying that is because when a wife is talking about her own husband or house to others, she does not say my husband or my house, but she says “uri” meaning ours in Korean. This is a complete opposite from my culture as I will never say my room to be our room as it is clearly my room. You know what I mean?

Knowing another person’s age is somehow a very important aspect of Korean culture as well. They will ask your age even on the first day of meeting. This I guess is because in Korean culture, the younger person has to show respect to the older person and the language that they use will also be different because of this. Although I am able to understand where all these are coming from, but I still think how tiring it must be for someone to be wary about such things all the time. Take drinking for example. The younger ones have to pour drinks for the older ones and they are not allowed to drink facing the older ones, but have to turn their head to the side and drink. I sometimes wonder whether close relationships can actually be built up this way.

When dining in Korean restaurant, have you noticed that they are very fast? Once seated, they will begin to serve all kinds of Kimchi and water. And without much waiting, your order will be served piping hot. Koreans are notorious for wanting everything to be done fast. It is very common to hear them say Pari Pari meaning hurry hurry all the time. And in Korea, there have food deliveries that will deliver all kinds of food to your home and office within mere 30 minutes. Now, that is what I call service.

Have you ever attended a Korean child’s first birthday party? It is both interesting and amusing. In the birthday party, the parents will put about 4 things on the table such as money, thread, rice and pen and have the child pick one. The one thing that the child picks will represent the child`s future. If the child picks money, that means he/she will be rich. Can you guess what the other items mean?

Korean culture is indeed interesting and at the same time difficult to comprehend. I guess this is the same for any culture in that there are certain things that are done naturally and so innate in your culture that you are not able to explain it in details to people outside of the culture. For example, Koreans like to ask the question, “Have you eaten?” When you bump into a Korean friend, it does not matter what time of the day it is, the first question that would ask will be, “Have you eaten?” I tried asking a Korean friend about this and she could not explain it to me. She said it is just a form of greeting, like “How are you?” in English, and does not have any profound meaning attached to it. I guess the best way to understand another country’s culture is to accept the difference and to respect it rather than trying to make sense out of it.

This article was written by Carolyn Tan.

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