Korean culture - Part I

If I were to host a Korean boy/girl in my home one day, I don't think I would have anything to teach him about culture and manners - the only Malaysian culture I know is food and the only Malaysian manners I know are well, just basic, eg. greet everybody before eating dinner, say your 'please and thank-yous', be a gentleman. Pretty common sense.

Ever since I stepped foot in this country I have been overwhelmed yet and yet again by the Korean culture - sometimes in a good way, sometimes incomprehensible and yes, sometimes suffocating. Here are some of the examples.

The Korean honorific language

The Koreans are very very particular about age and status because they are greatly influenced by Confucianism (儒学思想) - believe me, they really take it to a whole new level. In fact, neo-Confucianism would be more correct, I think, although I haven't really studied the subject yet. Although Confucius (孔子) himself originated from China, I don't see the Chinese take Confucianism as seriously as compared to the Koreans! Here, Confucianism defines the social hierarchy - juniors have to respect seniors, students have to respect their teachers, and so on.

The language here is honorific according to social positions at four levels. However currently I am learning the basic "junior speaking to senior" level in my Korean 101 class. Here, whenever I meet a Korean, one of the first things he/she will ask me is my age, because he/she needs to know how to address me. Like, if I am even slightly older than him by one year, he will call me nuna (누나) and if I am one year younger than him he will expect me to address him as oppa (오빠). If we are same age, then we are friends, chingu (진구) and I just need to call him by name. But if we are not so close friends I may have to add a Mr./Ms - 'sshi' (씨/“氏”in Chinese) behind his name, for example I call my lab senior Sang Joong-sshi and I must take caution not to call him Sang Joong-ah like Malaysians do because that means I am treating him like my junior. Bad mistake, they will give you a long lecture if you do!

Big sister for guys - nuna (누나)
Big brother for guys - hiong (형)
Big sister for girls - onni (언니)
Big sister for guys - oppa (오빠)
Younger brother/sister - dong seng (동생)

Oppa is used similarly to our Malay word abang, where we can use it for our real older brother, boyfriend, seniors, friends, or even the guy selling teh tarik at the stall. While for dong seng, they usually address the junior by name.

Sometimes I also get a shock from speaking to them... like that day I met these two guys from another lab, where one is a senior and one is a junior (by age and position).

On Nateon (Korean instant messenger):
Me: Hey Jungwook, where is your friend?
Jungwook: He is not my friend.
Me: Ha??? =_=''' (thinking what happen to them...)
Jungwook: He is my younger brother... dong seng... ㅎㅎㅎ

(Btw that ㅎㅎㅎ is their way of IM laughing hahahaha)

And sometimes I think the professors here think I'm funny. Because here the professors' social status is very very VERY high unlike in Malaysia where we don't even look at them if they walk past haha. One day I saw my DSP professor (quite old, around 60 years old) and I said to him cheerfully "Anyong haseyo!!!" to which he looked at me in a bemused manner then grinned and repeated "Anyong haseyo" to me... afterwards I remembered that I should greet him with "Anyong hashimnika", which is the honorific form of greeting which I'm supposed to use with professors. =_=''' But nevermind-lah, I think that professor likes me so I think he let it slip. :P

Some misc. Korean behaviour

One thing I find really cute about Korean guys here is how polite they are to girls. Sometimes when I run into a guy I know, he will give me a slight bow, which I find pretty cute, compared to those Malaysian classmates last time who so damn lansi never even care to say hi... haha.

And on Wednesday I went out with the two guys from another lab for dinner and the senior insisted he buy me dinner because they invited me out, although I said I should belanja him cos I'd been bugging him for help with my assignments haha. So they quite gentleman also...

But sometimes I get some comments about how "This is Korea-style, you should do this this this and this..." which really irks me because I am a foreigner and I shouldn't have to conform to their standards, you know. Like today, I was standing with my hands in the pockets of my jacket in front of a faculty workshop reception table when my labmate commented to me "This is Korea-style, no put your hands in your pocket, very rude"... so sian. But anyway I took my hands out just because it was a lab event and there were many professors walking in and out and I didn't wanna leave a bad impression.

OK, I can think of more, but that's all I can write now cos I need to go and bath and sleep now cos got International Students trip to Gyeongju historical state tomorrow haha. So next time.


On a sidenote, I'm happy this week because got people belanja me makan for three days straight! All that food must have left me grinning from ear to ear because when I walked into my Korean language class today, my Indonesian classmate asked me why I look so happy. ^^


josze said…
the greeting and how u call someone is really different ha. something like japan. see each other on the street bow to each other wan..why korea guys so polite!! good looking and polite..wahahaha good la..
libelly said…
i like this entry XW dong seng!
Xweing said…
Josze: Yalor.. I like.. haha ^^

Libelly: TQ!!! Glad u like it, sometimes I feel like I wanna blog like this more, photos just throw to FB... haha
libelly said…
photo is okay to upload...else i cant imagine much without photo...
from the entry can learn korean and know their culture...good!
leonardlcy said…
hmm maybe all this honorific titles are just a guise to know everyone's age! hahah...
hey, i think i've missed lots of stuff. You're in KOREA!!! OMG~! How wonderdul the life just begin, made me think of my master in London. It's always a extraordinary experience to study abroad. Enjoy!
Xweing said…
Thank you, Valyn! I enjoy reading about all your adventures too!~

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