One of the most interesting aspects of living abroad is experiencing differences between cultures. During my two years in Korea, I would note in my phone whenever I noticed an interesting difference between South Korea and the rest of the world. This will be the first in a series that will touch various unique aspects of Korean culture, including looks at food, drinking, the law, homes, work life, fashion and technology.
DISCLAIMER: These are all sourced from my own personal observations. Although I tried to verify everything, some may not apply to all of South Korea or may be found in other parts of the world as well. Also, here may be exceptions for practically every single point.
Showing respect with your hands is incredibly important. When interacting with someone else while using your hands, such as when pouring a drink, shaking hands or handing an object, it's important to be respectful while doing so. Using both hands is the most respectful. The next level down in respectfulness would be the left hand touching the right wrist which is handing it over. The next level down, touching your right elbow with your left hand. Then, left hand touching your chest. Finally, simply handing something with your right hand with no assistance from the left is considered the least polite, only do this amongst close friends or to subordinates.
Women may have dreams have during pregnancy that are believed to predict an unknown pregnancy, reveal details the coming child's sex or even the child's future life as a whole. Close family members are also believed to be capable of such dreams. These are called taemong Korean.
Fan death, now infamous on the Internet, is the belief that leaving a fan on in a closed room will cause those inside to die. Reasons for believing this vary, from the belief that the fan sucks all the air out of the room to making the room so cold you die of hypothermia. As a result of this myth, many fans in South Korea are sold with auto-shutoff timers. The Korea Herald even reported a fan related death as recently as 2011. But, most young Koreans today don't necessarily believe in fan death. That said, many still use the timer as a sort of "better safe than sorry" measure.
The way Koreans count age is a bit complicated. When you are born you are 1 year old, rather than starting at zero. From then, everyone ages another year when the new calendar year begins, rather than on your birthday. So, let's say you were born on July 1st 2014. On that day you would be 1 year old. Then, you would turn 2 on January 1st, 2015. Due to this process, it's possible for someone who is born in December to be 2 years old in January despite only having been alive for less than a month
Whistling at night is bad luck. It's thought to summon snakes or even ghosts.
Don't write someone's name using red ink. It's taboo to write a person's name with red ink since only dead people's names are written in red.
Opening an umbrella indoors is not bad luck.
When you sneeze, no one says anything to you, you just performed a normal bodily function.
Family names come before given names. For example, my legal name in Korea is Kramer Jonathan.
Family names commonly only have one syllable (Kim, Park, Lee).
Given names commonly have two syllables (Yunha, Jun-hyeong, Hejin).
More than half of Korean people one of the five most common family names: Kim (21.6%), Lee (14.8%), Park (8.5%), Choi (4.7%), Jeong (4.4%).
Confucianism has had great influence on Korean culture throughout history, even through to today. Elders and men are held to the greatest respect, family and the image of the family are incredibly important, and shame plays a large part in politics and business culture, as seen in the Sewol ferry tragedy.
Koreans celebrate a baby's baek-il. Literally "100-day(s)", it's a special celebration to mark the first 100 days of a child's life
The Korean language heavily employs a system of honorifics. This ranges from polite words used to refer to elders and superiors, to modifying the conjugation of verbs depending on whom you are talking to. I feel that the complex nature of honorifics are part of what make Korean a difficult language to learn.
It's taboo to give shoes as a gift to a significant other, as it symbolizes that they will run away from you.
The number 4 is bad luck since one of the pronunciations for 4 is the same as one of the words for death, "sa."
In contrast to western countries, most women prefer pale skin over tanned skin. Dark skin alludes to working hard in the fields while pale skin shows wealth. Also, reasonably, getting too much sun is seen as unhealthy and damaging to your skin. Sun umbrellas and sun blocking creams are common.
Korean girls often enact a specific kind of behavior towards their boyfriends, called egyo. Key aspects of egyo include speaking in an overly cute, baby-like way and using puppy eyes to get what you want. Watch this video for further clarification. Also, there's this video from a Korean variety show.
Many foreigners, especially those from western countries, are not particularly encouraged to learn the local language. When I told my Korean friends I was studying the Korean language, they would often respond with “why???" Often, when I would ask questions in Korean to store staff, I would get my responses back in English. But who knows, maybe that was because my pronunciation isn't so great. There has also been a study that suggests that foreign men married to Korean women are not really expected to learn Korean while foreign women married to Korean men are.
That's all for now, but there's much more to come! Tell me what you think of these cultural differences in the comments! If I made a mistake or you'd like to let me know more differences you can also do that via the comments, or by sending me an e-mail at KramersEmail@gmail.com.