How Korean Are You?

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

How Korean Are You?

While traveling in Europe recently, I went out to dinner at a restaurant. At the table, I laid out the cutlery neatly for my European friends. But as soon as I finished placing a spoon down for the person sitting next to me, I heard a whisper from the next table: "Geisha?"

My friends heard the remark and bit their lips trying not to laugh. Instead they said, "In뢵, you're too kind!" Having realized that one of my instinctive habits had become the subject of other people's fascination, I laughed along too. I knew that the people sitting nearby had innocently blurted out the word geisha on seeing an Asian woman - that's me - "serving" guests. In Europe, many women wouldn't have lifted a finger. In Asia, or more specifically, in Korea, where I have lived the past decade, women do everything. This realization came to me when I reflected how I've changed over the years. And, like myself, I have seen non-Koreans and expats become "Koreanized."

What is being Korean? For foreigners, it's what is considered Korean as opposed to what Koreans consider being Korean. Koreans, of course, know who they are: A superior race because they have "the most scientific language in the world." They also eat heavily spiced dishes, including kimchi, the "most nutritious food in the world." Finally, Koreans are true survivors because they have suffered since the demigod Dangun established the nation a half million years ago.

For non-Koreans, there are different measures, such as knowledge of the Korean language, behavior and thinking. The most obvious measurement would be proficiency in the Korean language, accompanied by certain mannerisms. Textbook expressions mark you out as a non-Korean right away. It is that "Yeogiyo!" with a long drawl in the crowded barbecue restaurant that gets you all the attention you ever needed, but it means "Over here!" not "Excuse me!" and is not likely to be the expression your phrasebook suggested.

Who you have spent time practicing the language with may determine the kind of language you use. Many foreign men living in Korea speak like Korean women. I asked a German whether he had a girlfriend in Korea. In his late 20s, 6 feet tall, with bulging biceps, he said, "Ahnyo, eopsseoyo." The high pitch of his voice and the verb ending he chose let me know that he'd spent a lot of time with Korean women.

Roberto, who lived in Korea for three years as a staff member of the Italian Embassy, said, "If you meet a Frenchman, a German or an Italian in Korea, he is not a typical European you'd find in France, Germany or Italy. First off, they can speak English; walk the streets of those European countries and you see no one speaks English." These men have learned English because often it's the lingua franca between expats and Koreans.

Korea can indulge some foreigners, like one of my American friends. Kevin, a U.S. native, didn't bother to learn the language nor was he interested in Korean values until he left Korea. He went back to the States after graduating from high school, but wrote me an e-mail saying he couldn't stand the people there. The reason? They were "too American." They didn't care about strangers. They had no respect for elders. He saw what his classmates in Korea said they didn't like about Americans: Suddenly his people were badly dressed, shallow, materialistic, cheap, boring and rude.

Living in Korea is also about understanding Korean sentiment. If you have spent enough time in Korea, you know what it means to feel han (that peculiarly Korean rancor), and you accept what you once thought superstitious, old-fashioned or Confucianist. You realize that if your friend is attending a driving test, job interview or blind date, a night of soju-drinking will be required to prepare him or her. You somehow understand why young people living with their aging parents. After dating someone, you definitely don't want them to tell their parents about your romantic involvement. Not until you decide to marry, of course.

So how Koreanized are you?




What Makes a Korean Man?

( ) You wear brown slippers at work.

( ) You spit a lot - with a loud gutteral noise - to show how tough you are.

( ) You smoke "This" cigarettes.

( ) You prefer going to drink at pojang macha rather than bars.

( ) You are not bothered when other Korean men touch your body.

( ) You are a bad driver.

( ) When talking to anyone lower than your status, such as employees, shoe repairman, etc., you stand with arms akimbo.

( ) You can down two bottles of soju at one sitting.

( ) When you're angry, you say "Eiii--!" followed by the number 18 in Korean.

( ) You can sing "Dorawayo Busanhang."

( ) You let your wife or girlfriend carry the heaviest bags.

( ) When you see a Korean woman with a foreigner, you feel like beating him up.

( ) When hungover, you eat spicy soup.

( ) You don't respect any man who didn't serve in the army.

( ) And you can tell.


What Makes a Korean Woman?

( ) Hanging out in coffee shops is an important part of your regular routine.

( ) You shriek with joy upon seeing stuffed animals, and you have a collection.

( ) You are always on a diet.

( ) You think long straight hair will get the tall man you desire.

( ) You believe in fortune-tellers and pay regular visits to them.

( ) You wear make-up and clothes identical to your friends in order to look like twins.

( ) You will do anything to make your legs look longer.

( ) Your favorite snack is ssalddeokboggi.

( ) You carry a toothbrush everywhere.

( ) You go to the hair salon once a month, especially for "coating."

( ) You have a habit of hitting or pinching people even when you're not angry.

( ) You think it is important to have aegyo, or cute Korean charm, to get what you want.

( ) You're a bad driver.

( ) At least one part of your body has been surgically altered.

( ) And you lie to everyone that you were born that way.

How Korean Are You?


Check if the Statement Is True.


( ) The smell of kimchi jjige in the street makes your mouth water.

( ) When catching a cab at night, you raise two fingers.

( ) You get annoyed when you see a woman in the street not wearing any make-up.

( ) You can distinguish Ji-hye from Ji-hyun and Ju-yeon.

( ) You say "Orai, orai!" when you are helping your friend back up his car.

( ) When you return home, you miss McDonald's bulgogi burgers.

( ) You hate Japan for no apparent reason.

( ) You bow to all of your friends.

( ) At 7-Eleven, you look for the triangular rice wrapped in black seaweed.

( ) You were once a king, or felt like one, at King's Club in Itaewon.

( ) Seeing cleaning ladies inside men's bathrooms no longer bothers you.

( ) You can pronounce Hyundai correctly.

( ) You think foreigners are too hairy.

( ) You think blowing one's nose in public is disgusting; you'd rather sniff.

( ) You stand 5 feet 9 inches, and you think you're kind of tall.

( ) When you feel like drinking beer, you look for a "hof."

( ) When eating in a restaurant, you don't mind dabbing your mouth with toilet paper instead of napkins.

( ) Sleeping on a hard floor doesn't hurt your back.

( ) You really believe there is nothing more satisfying than doing "One shot!" of soju.

( ) You consider people who vomit in front of you to be soulmates.

by Inēs Cho

More in Features

Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix

[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes

Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers

When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it

The traveling grandma who's 'alive and kicking it'

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now