The Little Things

July 08, 2012

Small Talk
If you visit Korea, you're likely to be asked these questions. On multiple occasions.

Where are you from?
I've gotten everything from American to Uzbekistanian.
Fun fact: Blond hair is sometimes viewed as a Russian characteristic and many prostitutes used to come to Korea from Russia. The association is still there to some degree.

How old are you?
There is a really heavy emphasis on relationship ties based on age. It is expected that you only become friends with people of the same age, otherwise you address them according to their age. For most expressions, there is a range of formality depending on who you are talking to. 
As a basic example, these are terms for older siblings based on both age and gender. I've heard these terms used both among family and non-family members:
Boy's elder brother: 형 (hyeong)
Boy's elder sister: 누나 (noona)
Girl's elder brother: 오빠 (oppa)
Girl's elder sister: 언니 (eunni) 

What's your blood type?
Much like astrological sign, it's believed that blood type can indicate personality type. Unfortunately for me, I don't know what blood type I have so my personality will continue to be a mystery!

Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?
If I didn't happen to have a boyfriend during my time in Korea, I would have made one up. After a certain age, it is expected that you actively search for love. I've talked about the culture of romance in a past post. I've heard stories from single friends about the sheer pity in the eyes of the interrogator as they ask "Why don't you have a  boyfriend/girlfriend?". Thankfully I fall short of the common marrying age (28 for women, 32 for men) so I'm able to evade questions about marriage. Even still, the questions press on. Once you confess that a boyfriend exists, they ask "Is he Korean?" and I say "Well, no" and they say "Why not?".  One of my (hilarious) coworkers has gone so far as to (jokingly) suggest that I should have a Korean boyfriend, not instead of but as well as Matt (ha-ha). It's pretty common knowledge by now throughout my school that I have a boyfriend and his name is Matthew. I have been asked on multiple occasions, by coworkers and students, about my future plans of marriage and children. I think I blow some of them away when I confess that marriage and children are not one of the main goals in my life!

School Lunches
Each day I have lunch in the school cafeteria which is where I've experienced quite a range of foods. Generally the food is really good and not too questionable. Every day there is some variation of rice, kimchi, and soup. In addition to those staples, there are usually two or three more dishes, maybe meat of some kind and 'sea vegetables' (I'll touch on Korean food in a separate post). It's here that I've accidentally sampled 순대 (sundae; blood sausage) and who knows what other strange things! As a general rule, I try not to scoop from the bottom of the soup bowl ^_^ Thankfully, unlike some of my fellow expats, I am able to serve myself and skip over the dishes with eyes or tentacles.

Fashion Standards (feat. Online Shopping)
In my last post I touched on fashion and beauty standards in Korea as they relate to pop culture and media. In society, however, people also generally dress really well day-to-day. If you go to the beach or the mountains, expect to see more than a few women wearing 4-inch heels and skirts. But who can blame them? Shopping in Korea is made all-to-convenient through a magical thing called the Internet. *segue* Since being in Korea I've dropped a fair share of my income on online shopping. One particular website, Gmarket, is super easy to navigate in English-mode (though cheapest shops are only available in Korean) and delivery is usually free and arrive within the week. MAGIC. Though dangerous on those deskwarming days.

Interesting Beliefs & Superstitions
If a pregnant woman drinks coffee, she risks her baby's skin being darker (and we don't want that, do we? Dark skin is associated with physical labour and lower social status so you'll often see long sleeves and parasols in the summer to avoid tanning. Skin whitening creams are available year round!)
If you sleep with a fan on and the windows closed, you will die (fan death).
Writing a person's name in red ink may bring bad luck or death.
The number 4 is associated with bad luck.
If you cut your nails at night, an animal might come to eat them and steal your spirit/soul.
It's bad luck to wash your hair before a test.
Food to eat before a test: sticky rice cake (knowledge will stick!)
Food to avoid: slippery seaweed soup (knowledge will slip away!)


My life is incredibly laid-back at the moment. My students are in the midst of a 4-day final exam period so I am only working half days, and showing movies otherwise. The next teaching session, vacation classes, start July 26 and will only be lasting 9 days. Turns out I have a longer vacation period than I anticipated, so during the first weekend in August I'll be heading to Jeju. I also have an entire week off before I head back to Canada. I'm going to miss this job!

I've found myself really torn lately. For the past 10 months I've daydreamed about going back to my life in Canada, but now I feel like I'll really miss this place; the amazing people I've met, my coworkers, my students, the independence, the excitement, the food, the travelling. For the next month and a half, I'm really going to try to keep my senses open and take it all in.

1 comment

  1. Very good post. incredibly informative and interesing...definitely learned a few new things.


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