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10 Fun Facts about South Korea

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

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 Gimchi go together

If there is a national food of Korea, kimchi is it. This spicy, saucy pickled cabbage is found at every grocery store, street corner and convenience store, and is eaten 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 ‘cheeeeese’, one naturally says ‘gimchiiii’.

2. One-year-old at birth

A baby is considered one-year old when born. That’s nine months in the womb rounded up. Big celebrations follow after 100 days of life, as well as, the first birthday (when you are technically two years old). Likely a remnant of shorter life-expectancies of days past, they also celebrate big at the age of 60 (when you are technically 61 years in Korean age).

3. Mountains cover 70% of Korea

Given its mountainous terrain, hiking is a big pastime. Instead of getting away from it all, many hike socially by joining a club. Clubs can be a small local neighborhood group or a sprawling one (the largest club boasts 24,000 members). For big club events, they rent buses to caravan to destinations. As expected, the climb can feel more like an outdoor gathering rather than a serene commune with nature.

4. Stay away from the number four

Red ink is considered bad luck. Writing a person’s name in the color signifies the person is dead, or will die soon. The number four is likely considered bad luck as 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; the floor number is often replaced with the letter F.

5. A Common Greeting

Rather than, “How are you?” a more common greeting in Korea 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 responses and stuffing guests into a food coma.

6. The traditional and modern co-exist

Korea is a land of new and old contrasts. Modern buildings stand next to cultural heritage sights, such as temples. For special occasions and holidays, people may dress in traditional attire or 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. Toilet paper and laundry detergent as housewarming gifts

Cleaning supplies and tissue paper used to be so expensive that they were considered luxury gifts for new homeowners. This tradition of gifting these items 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. Sticky candy and foods can bring good luck

엿 (yeot) is a hard taffy that is made with glutinous rice. Because of its stickiness, superstition says that this candy will cause good luck to stick to you. It is believed that this is the case for correct answers to exams. Students who believe this superstition often eat it (or something similarly glutinous) before exams to help the correct answers to ‘stick’.

9. Delivery food is serious business

Korea boasts 24-hour convenience and 24-hour delivery. Whatever you are craving, it can be delivered anytime, anyplace. If someone is in the middle of a local park, the delivery worker will call upon arrival and drop off your order 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. Averages the world’s speediest internet

Attributed to decades of government policies that focused on expanding access to telecommunications infrastructure, the country is a solid leader in internet connectivity. Their speedy internet may also have something to do with the fact that Koreans tend to be in a hurry -- not just sometimes, but all the time.

With its long and rich history, there are many more interesting facts about South Korea. Share your knowledge and experiences!

Originally published on 11/9/2020 for Multicultural Kids Blog

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