Miss, Mrs. or Ms.?The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Ms. Perez, who wrote to us from Seoul:
Q. Ms. Perez:
I’ve been living and working in Korea for nearly three years.
From my experience, Koreans generally treat foreigners extremely well.
In some professional circumstances, though, I’m confused. At official functions, I honestly don’t understand why I’m constantly introduced to other Koreans as “Mrs.” Perez.
I’ve told them on a number of occasions that I am a divorced woman and so they shouldn’t address me as a married woman.
In the beginning, I thought it was an unintentional mistake, but this continues to happen even when English-speaking Koreans are present.
Is there any reason why they refuse to use “Miss” or “Ms.” at official functions?
When English honorifics, especially “Miss” and “Mrs.,” were first introduced to Koreans, locals used them to refer to either young, unmarried women or older, married women. Young office secretaries and waitresses in bars and restaurants adopted “Miss” in the old days, and that honorific became something of a social stigma for women in Korea, while “Mrs.” was a more respected term for an older woman.
Because of the word’s association here in times past, more recently Korean feminists have sought to abolish the term and Korean men have been cautious not to use “Miss” to address a respected older woman. However illogical it may sound, Koreans are simply trying to show you respect.
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