To immerse yourself in a culture different from yours is an exhilarating feeling. It is, perhaps, one of the few times you can experience that elusive childlike wonder you thought you’d never encounter again since you reached adulthood. Every community has its own distinct culture and tradition, unique to their own.
South Korea is no different. With the increasing popularity of their entertainment media, it is no wonder that this country has found itself on many people’s bucket lists. If you’re one of those people who are enamoured with South Korea’s charms, here are 8 impressive facts on South Korean culture to whet your appetite before you go.
1. A year old newborn
As confusing at it may seem, your Korean age is not the same as your Western one. In Korea, everyone believes that you are a year old as soon as you come out from the womb. To make it even more complicated, you get a year older on New Year’s Day. It is thus not surprising to learn that a baby born on the last day of the year is immediately 2 years old the very next day.
2. The unlucky number 4
You might have noted the Chinese influence that remains in the culture and traditions in Korean society. The same goes for superstitions. As the number’s pronunciation sounds very similar to the word ‘death’ in many Chinese languages, many are still averse to using the number in floors in buildings and houses lest it curses someone to death. While Korea and China have now distanced themselves as two separate sovereign states, certain ideas have remained till today.
3. Taffy before an exam
On that note, there are several other superstitions that Koreans still subscribe to till today. Known for its super-competitive education system, Korea has several ‘tricks’ that are believed to allow a student to score well in their exams. One of them is to eat sticky foods such as 엿 (pronounced yeot – traditional Korean taffy) to retain any information and ‘stick’ this knowledge to their brains. However, nowadays, people usually eat 떡 (pronounced tteok – Korean rice cakes) in place of 엿 (yeot)! You might even see them being given to students right before they take their national exams.
4. Pampering men on Valentine’s Day
Unlike most Western countries, countries such as Japan and South Korea place the spotlight on men during Valentine’s Day. Women use this opportunity to confess to their crushes or pamper their partners if they are in a relationship.
Instead, men will have to wait for a month to gift their crushes or partners on White Day, which falls on March 14th. Talk about equality for both!
5. The bane of being the leading beauty industry
Beauty has always been regarded as crucial in South Korea. The Korean Cosmetic Industry ranks 8th globally and is predicted to garner $200 billion by 2024. Increasingly, more American and European brands are formulating their products by following Korean research and development.
This emphasis on beauty has made it almost an obligation for Koreans – women especially – to take special care of their appearance. Cosmetic surgery has seen a rise in the last 5 years, and it is not surprising to receive an eyelid surgery as a present for your sweet 16.
6. Metrosexuals are in
No longer exclusive only to women, makeup is worn by men in Korea as well. Previously, they only applied basic skincare, but they have picked up base makeup and other methods to further define their face, such as reshaping their eyebrows or putting on lipstick.
In 2018 alone, the sales of men’s cosmetics have reached US$1 billion. Perhaps due to the image perpetuated by Korean boybands, young Korean men have grown the desire to not only retain their youthfulness but to also leave a lasting impression.
7. Not so much of a Hallyu Wave
Of course, the Hallyu Wave is one of the biggest reasons why South Korea rose in popularity in terms of tourist destinations. When we thought the craze was going to stagnate after a decade, Psy came with his sensational hit, Gangnam Style. It was so influential that the pop star performed his hit single at the inauguration of the nation’s first female Prime Minister, Park Geun-Hye.
On that note, do remember that South Korea is bigger than its Hallyu Wave. In fact, the majority of those who consume K-pop are those who reside outside of Korea. You’d be surprised that many Koreans would prefer ballad or hip hop over those that are part of the K-pop scene. There are other aspects to the country outside of the entertainment that you consume on the daily. Be open to their culture and traditions that lie outside of what you’ve seen on the television and the Internet.
8. Exemplary food delivery
If you think we’ve reached the pinnacle of food delivery with the services we have here in Singapore, you’d have your mind blown with Korea’s food delivery. Not only is it fast and efficient, but you’d also receive your foods still steaming hot. Often arriving in regular bowls and metal cutlery, you may return the tableware by placing them in a box or a blue plastic bag provided. Leave this right outside your door, and somebody will come by to collect them in a few hours.
Once again, as a reminder, head down with an open mind and heart. Leave your tunnel vision behind and do not miss the opportunity to discover all of South Korea’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. To help you navigate easier, you may want to pick up the language prior to your trip. At Sejong Korean Language School, we offer Korean lessons for beginners including those for corporate professionals. Enjoy your trip and, perhaps, make a friend along the way!