Korean Pop Music (K-Pop) and Korean Dramas (K-Dramas) are wildly popular, but there is more to South Korea than music and movies. Here are 10 fun cultural tidbits about the peninsula to expand your world.
1. Korea and Kimchi Go Together
If there is a national food of Korea, kimchi is it. Every grocery store, street corner, and convenience store carries this spicy, saucy pickled cabbage. Koreans also eat it at almost every meal. There is even an annual kimchi-making festival AND an entire museum dedicated to this nutritious dish! In Korea, when snapping a photo, instead of saying “cheeeeese,” one naturally says “kimchiiii.”
2. Babies are One-year-old at Birth
Koreans consider a baby to be one-year-old at birth. That’s nine months in the womb rounded up. Big celebrations follow after 100 days of life, as well as on the first birthday (when the baby is technically two years old). These traditions are probably remnants of the shorter life-expectancies of the past. Big celebrations also mark the age of 60 (when your Korean age is technically 61).
3. Mountains Cover 70% of Korea
Given Korea’s mountainous terrain, hiking is a big past time. Instead of getting away from it all, many hikers join a social club. Clubs range from small, local neighborhood groups to large organizations boasting up to 24,000 members. Big club events require buses to caravan hikers to their destinations. As expected, these climbs can feel more like outdoor gatherings rather than serene communes with nature.
4. People Avoid the Number Four
Red ink is considered bad luck. Writing a person’s name in that color signifies that the person is dead or will die soon. The number four is likewise considered bad luck. That’s because it is written the same way as the Chinese character for death. As such, the fourth floor of an apartment/condominium building may have lower property values. So, the number 4 is often replaced with the letter F.
5. They Have Different Common Greetings
Rather than ask, “How are you?” a more common Korean greeting is, “Have you eaten?” This is a rhetorical question for some because the truly maternal or paternal will produce something for you to eat regardless of your response. My mom was famous for ignoring the response and stuffing guests with more food.
6. The Traditional and Modern Co-exist
Korea is a land of new and old. Modern buildings stand next to cultural heritage sights, such as temples. For special occasions and holidays, some people dress in traditional attire while others wear contemporary clothing. A fun outing for natives and tourists alike is to visit carefully preserved palaces to watch the changing of the guard, take photos, and try on historical clothing. Another throwback in time is to visit a folk village for an extended stay in a traditional-style house.
7. Koreans Offer Unusual Housewarming Gifts
Many Koreans give cleaning supplies and toilet tissue to new homeowners. These products used to be very expensive, which made them luxury items, but the tradition has carried over to current times. Additionally, bubbles from detergent or soap – because they multiply and foam – were thought to “grow” prosperity, wealth, and stability in the new home.
8. Some Koreans Eat Sticky Candy for Luck
엿 (yeot) is a sticky, hard taffy made with glutinous rice. According to superstition, this candy will cause good luck to stick to you. It applies to correct answers on exams, as well. Students who believe this Korean superstition often eat yeot (or something similarly glutinous) before exams to help the correct answers “to stick.”
9. Food Delivery is Serious Business
Korea boasts 24-hour convenience and 24-hour delivery. Deliveries can happen anytime or anyplace, no matter what you are craving. If someone is in the middle of a local park, the delivery worker will call upon arrival and deliver the food to your very location. When the order is sent to your home, the driver actually comes back to pick up the dishes after your meal! One only needs to leave the dishes outside the apartment door.
10. Korea Averages the World’s Speediest Internet
For decades, government policies focused on expanding access to telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, the country is a solid leader in internet connectivity. Korea’s speedy internet may also have something to do with the fact that Koreans tend to be in a hurry.