Several Superstitions and Customs in Korea

There are some customs that you need to keep in mind when you visit Korea later on.

It would be a good way to understand Korean people’s culture.

1. Korean people think that good lucks will leave you when you shake your legs. Shaking legs look bad and is regarded as a bad table manner in Korea. Parents often scold their children whenever they shake their legs on a dinner table or during a study.

2. Korean people avoid eating ‘Miyeok-guk (미역국, seaweed soup)’ during exam periods. 미역국 is very popular and loved in Korea but it is specifically avoided on exam days. There is a famous Korean idiom ‘시험에 미끄러졌다’ which translates as ‘I slipped on an exam’. Since seaweed is slimy, the parallelism created between the slimy seaweed and the idiom, create people to think that eating seaweed will fail their exams. Therefore, 미역국 is a symbolic meal for birthdays but not for occasions when important tests are on.

3. Magpie(까치) is regarded as a bird that brings a good luck, while sighting a crow(까마귀) is thought to bring you a bad luck or death. It would be the opposite in other countries. In some countries, crow is a symbol of a good luck. However, Korean people normally say that I am lucky (재수 있다) whenever they see a magpie while they say “I am unlucky. (재수 없다)” when they see a crow. Additionally, the traditional folk song, 까치 까치 설날 (Magpie Magpie New Year), is often sang on New Year Day for people to celebrate in hope for a lucky new year.

4.If Korean people accidentally drop a cup and the cup is broken, they think that something bad will happen.You maybe have seen a similar scene in Korean dramas. When actresses drop a cup or a vase on the floor, later on in the drama/movie, something bad will eventually occur. Therefore Koreans do not serve their guest with broken glass wares.

I can’t say that every Korean people believe in the superstitions. However, it would be helpful to understand Korean culture.

Sarah Yong (Korean Tutor)


The endless rows of apartment buildings in Korea

Hong Kong is known to be packed with apartments. However, Hong Kong is just a city. Considering the size of the country, Korea is perhaps the only one country that is covered with sprawling apartment complexes throughout the country, whether it is in a metropolitan or a rural area.  It is due to high volume of population in the limited of land as well as preference of living style. Within limited space, people wanted to live in a warm cosy home without taking care of the place much. In Korea, houses traditionally used to be a common type of place to live. However, as Korea became more industrialised, the Koreans found more opportunity to get a job in the bigger city, and they prefer urban life style than agricultural life, which lead to the cities becoming concentrated. Even in the rural area, there are less people living than usual, they also enjoy living in apartments due to the convenience of home care and high security.

Given the fact that the Koreans cannot stand falling behind others, living in apartments means that everyone has the same size, design and layout shared by their neighbours. If anything is different, it immediately catches the eyes of neighbours. For example, rumours of someone having a new television would fly all over the apartment complex. Fierce competition would ensue. When there was something new, it would become extremely popular within the apartment complex, as everyone would know what their neighbours have and aim to have it too. For example, refrigerators made for Kimchi were introduced 90s and within only a few years, they became in great demand for people everywhere. The Koreans have taken their ‘equal profit sharing’ mentality to a whole new level.


Korea, China and Japan: Neighbours with differences – Religion

korean courses

There are about 200 countries in the world. All of these countries co-exist with their neighbouring countries. It is easily found that those neighbour countries have much similarity in terms of their culture, language and religion. For instance, even though neighbouring countries England, France and Germany might have different history and life style, historically, most people believe in the same God and all use the same letters, the alphabet. In addition, they also use forks and knives.

The three East Asian countries: Korea, China and Japan on the other hand, are a group of neighbours that is rather different from other neighbouring countries in particular from the perspective of religion.

In China, there are the hundreds of religions. One of the religions, Confucianism has become an underlying social and ethical philosophy but it was not a religion being practiced. In fact, more people have turned to Taoism, meditating for happier lives and tranquillity. After communism overtook throughout China, the Cultural Revolution greatly destroyed Confucian traditions.

In Japan, when Buddhism was first introduced, practitioners of Shinto, the native religion of Japan, were anything but pleased. However, Prince Shotoku (574-622 A.D.) contributed to settling Buddhism down in Japan. He proclaimed freedom of religion and built a grand temple. Not only he pursued developing Buddhism But also tried to harmonise Buddhism with other exiting religions. Therefore Confucianism, Shintoism and Buddhism co-existed with each other in Japan.

In Korea, the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) kings revered Confucianism adopting it as the country’s official religion. But they suppressed Buddhism. Hence, Korea became the most Confucianism centred country in the world at that time.  In 1945, Christianity spread after Korea’s liberation from Japan. Surpassing Buddhism, Christianity has become the No. 1 religion in Korea with approximately 35% of the population professing to be Christians, which is fairly unusual in Asia. Currently there are tens of thousands of churches nationwide. The religious manifestations in Korea are entirely different from those in Japan and China.

Cooking Fever in Korea 한국에서의 요리 열풍

Entertainment program related with cooking are currently popular in Korea. ‘한식대첩(Korean food competition)’ and ‘마스터쉐프코리아’ (Master Chef Korea)’ arose popularity and many issues. Especially, ‘냉장고를 부탁해’ on JTBC has been winning the popularity. ‘냉장고를 부탁해 (Ask you my fridge)’ is a kind of variety show where chefs compete to make a special dish in 15 minutes only with the ingredients taken from the guest’s fridge. Korean chefs who feature in this show include 홍석천(Seokcheon Hong), 최현석(Hyeonseok Choi), 샘 김(Sam Kim), 김 풍(Pung Kim) with one Bulgarian chef, 미카엘 아쉬미노프, who has lived in Korea for over 12 years and runs his own restaurant in Seoul.

The chefs try to make a delicious and looking-good dish only for the guest after they listen to what kind of food the guest prefers and the guest’s personal life style as well. The guest – the owner of the fridge has to decide which dish is the most delicious. Despite the pressure the chefs would feel throughout making the special dish in just 15 minutes, the guests would feel impressed by the beautiful and extremely delicious food which was made only for them. This show has been portrayed to the audience not only as a show of competition but a show where it gives a big pleasure to them. We can catch out some expressions related with cooking in the show. Almost expressions in recipe use the command verbs.

차가운 물에 씻어라. Rinse it in cold water.

양파를 얇게 잘라라. Slice onion thinly.

당근을 strip 모양으로 잘라라. Cut carrots into strips.

익을 때까지 볶아라. Stir fry it until they soften.

야채와 양념을 섞어라. Mix the vegetables and sauce.

설탕 1 스푼을 넣어라. Add 1 tsp of sugar.

중간 불에 15분 동안 익혀라. Cook it for 15 mins over medium heat.

씻다(to rinse) à 씻어라 볶다(to stir) à 볶아라
섞다(to mix) à 섞어라 넣다(to add/put)  à 넣어라
자르다(to cut/slice) à자르어라à 잘라라 익히다(to cook)   à 익히어라à 익혀라

As you seen from the examples, -어라/아라/해라 is an ending form of imperative sentence. Just try to catch out some expressions from the Korean cooking show or Korean food recipe.

(Sarah Yong, Korean Language Teacher)

Back to the 90s

Famous television entertainment program ‘Infinite challenge’- Muhan dojeon (무한도전)’ produced a 90s music concert in January 2015. The show had become sensational, which lead a new trend of entertainment programs in early 2015. Not only the episode of the show reached a high viewer rating, but also 90s music regained popularity.

The concert was filled with 90s K-pop singers such as SES, Turbo, Hyunjeong Kim, Chanhui So, who were particularly popular yet no longer appeared on TV programs as they were replaced by new younger singers. As time goes by, their fans seemed like that they had forgotten their favorite singers. However, it turns out they still remain as their loyal fans, remember all their popular songs and enjoy the concert. Even the TV viewers appreciated the 90s music and were eager to listen to more 90s hits.

Afterwards, in the main Korean music chart of January and February, the old 90s music dominated compared to new music created this year. The popularity of 90s music is expected to continue in 2015. KBS, MBC and SBS broadcasting stations have produced a number of programs focusing on 90s musicians and music. For instance, MBC ‘human documentary, Sarami jota’ on 24th January discussed one of the singers and the host from the 90s music concert in ‘Infinite challenge’. KBS morning program also went through the details of all of the singers from the concert.

However, this trend has attracted criticism that the 90s same stories are repeated by the same singers, that may easily become tedious. Moreover, the retro music trend may be neglecting to create new music. Nevertheless, most people consider this trend as a ‘fresh COMING BACK’. The elders can recall their precious memories of childhood and for the youngers, they can experience what the 90s music was like. Thus the current retro trend will continue to have a positive effect on the entertainment programs.

Chuseok 추석 (Hangawi한가위) – One of the biggest holidays in Korea

Monday 8 September 2014 is Chuseok, which is also called Hangawi (한가위). The meaning of Hangawi is a combination of “Han” which means big and “Gawi” which is the idea of August or Autumn. As one of the biggest public holidays in Korea, Chuseok normally lasts for 3 days. Fortunately, this year the holiday starts from Monday and Koreans are excited to have a long, 5 days holiday including the weekend. During the holiday, Koreans who live in large cities typically come back to their family original hometown to meet other members of the family. They spend a quality time together and play traditional games while sharing food and drinks. People also perform ancestral worship rituals to thank to their ancestors for the abundant harvest called “Charye”. It is the ancestral memorial rite where people prepare food and greet their ancestors in order to return their favours and honour them. These memorial rites have been practiced for thousands of years across Korea since Koreans believe that people only die physically but their sprits live on forever. On Chuseok Day, the typical Korean family starts the morning with “Charye”, followed by a big breakfast with the whole family. Afterwards, the family visits their ancestor’s graves to greet and clear any weed around the area. Recent years have seen the emergence of a new trend where growing numbers of families decide to travel both in Korea and overseas. Although this could be seen as a break with tradition, it is widely regarded as a special moment of the year when families get to take some time out and have an opportunity to spend some time together, united as a family: this is what “Chuseok” is all about.

Collectivistic culture in Korea

Korea is a place where low individualism prevails but collectivism predominates. Korean people believe in the will of the group rather than that of the individual, and the society emphasises on harmony and group decision-making. Therefore, while you are studying Korean, you will be able to find unique cultural fact and expressions that have traditionally been handed down.

The adjective of ‘our’ is often used when referring to Korea; the country, own home or family members instead of using ‘my’ such as our country and our home. It does not necessarily mean there was a joint ownership involved. ‘Our’ emphasizes community over individuality, which expressing their affiliations that they are belong to. By using this term, Koreans consciously or unconsciously strengthen a sense of harmony. However, when it is necessary to specify one’s possession, ‘my’ is used. ‘Our’ could sound odd in this case.

The other interesting Korean culture fact is calling people as a family member. For instance, a ripe of old age of 80 is normally called as a grandfather or grandmother from other people regardless of family relationship. Brothers and sisters are also frequently used to call rather than their names. Since Koreans historically observe a custom of Confucian ideology that considers the society as a big family in the same vein as collectivism. This unique culture gives Korean people a sense of intimacy to each other.

In addition, when you are willing to call someone only by names, you should make sure if the other person is the same age otherwise the other person might feel uncomfortable to be called since the appropriate title is particularly commonly used rather than names. If someone looks obviously older than you, it may be a good idea to call him or her as a familial title. If it happened in a work place, you should call someone by his or her title (check out the last blog: ‘A word on culture: you’). The term ‘friend’ in Korean is only used to refer to someone the same age as you. Names without any title can be used after you are quite close to someone.

Phone Conversation in Korean

Dialogue 1: How to call your friend!

A: 여보세요? Jenny집인가요?

   (yeoboseyo? Jenny jip ingayo? /

Hello? Is this Jennys residence?)

B: , 누구세요?  (ne, nuguseyo?/  Yes. Who is calling?)

A: 저는 Jenny 친구 Mike예요.    

    (jeoneun jenny chingu Mike yeyo. / Im Mike, Jennys friend.

   Jenny 있어요?     (Jenny isseoyo? / Is there Jenny?)

B: , 잠시만요.     (ne, jamsimanyo/ Yes. Hold on, please.)

A: 감사합니다.  (gamsahamnida/ Thank you.)


Jenny: 여보세요? (yeoboseyo? / Hello?)

Mike: , 나야. Mike.   (eung/naya/ Yep, Its me, Mike.)


Dialogue 2: How to call in Korean formally!

A: 여보세요? Jenny씨 댁인가요?

   (yeoboseyo? Jenny ssi daekingayo? / Hello? Is this Jennys residence?)

B: , 누구세요?  (ne, nuguseyo?/  Yes. Who is calling?)

A: 저는 Jenny씨 회사 동료 Mike예요.    

    (jeoneun jenny ssi hoesa dongryo Mike yeyo. /

Im Mike, Jennys colleague.)

   Jenny씨 계신가요?     (Jenny gyesingayo? / Is there Jenny?)

B: , 잠시만요.     (ne, jamsimanyo/ Yes. Hold on, please.)

A: 감사합니다.  (gamsahamnida/ Thank you.)


Jenny: 여보세요? (yeoboseyo? / Hello?)

Mike: 제니씨, 저예요. (Jenny ssi jeoyeyo/ Yep, Its me, Mike.)


When you call to your friend casually or call to someone formally, you need to use somewhat different level of politeness in Korean.

Firstly, “Hello?” on the phone is “여보세요?”

When you pick up the phone, just say “여보세요?”

Koreans normally ask the question “Who is calling?” to the caller.

“누구세요?”(Who is calling?”) or “실례지만, 누구세요?” (Excuse me but who is calling?) can be used in Korean.

When you want to confirm whether or not you called to the right place or number, you can ask the question “~인가요?”

Like the examples, casually “제니 집인가요?” or formally “제니씨 댁인가요?” is used depending on the situation.

Two expressions ‘제니 집’ and ‘제니씨 댁’ mean the same “Jenny’s residence (house)” But depending on the situation, we need to choose the proper the level of politeness. ‘댁’ is an honorific word of ‘집’

         제니 집 (Jenny’s residence)      교수님 댁 (professor’s residence)


Just combine with a noun with ~인가요?

제니 집 인가요?”               “교수님 댁 인가요?”

(Is this Jenny’s residence?)       (Is this the Professor’s residence?)

When you ask the telephonee to put you through to your friend, you can say “~있어요?” Like the example on the first dialogue, you can ask the question “제니 있어요?” It means “Is Jenny there?” or “Is Jenny in?” The expression is informal. When you ask the question formally, you can say “제니씨 계신가요?”

계시다 is an honorific expression of 있다.

     친구가 있어요(There is a friend).  어머니가 계세요(There is my mother).


Compare two sentences.




Is Jenny’s residence? 제니 집인가요? 제니씨 댁인가요?
Is there Jenny? 제니 있어요? 제니씨 계신가요?
It’s me. 나야. 저예요.


Just try to call your friends in Korean. Start from the easiest “여보세요?” J

Sarah Yong (Korean Teacher)

Korean Convention: Using Familial Titles

In Korea, you must never call someone who is older than you by his or her name. Rather, use familial titles!

Calling the elder’s name directly should be rude in Korea. Rather, you must call him or her by an appropriate familial title. It would be much better. Of course, it is not for the working place but for the casual social life.

Interestingly, family titles can be used to call someone who is not your family member in Korea. Family titles are very often used to non-family members to express friendly feeling or intimacy. The situation can be seen easily in other Asian countries such as China or India.

However, there is something that we need to be careful about. Depending on your gender and the gender of opposite person, you should use different familial titles.

As seen in the above pictures, older sister can be called with 누나or언니 and older brother can be titled with or오빠.

When you call old women between 40~50-year-olds, 아주머니(ajumeoni) can be used. 아저씨(ajeossi) are used to old men around 40~50-year-olds. You may call 70~80-years-old men and women as 할아버지 (harabeoji) and 할머니(halmeoni) respectively.

When you call a young looking woman, you need to carefully choose one of two titles, 언니 (누나) or 아주머니. Korean woman doesn’t like to be called as 아줌마 or 아주머니. Especially, the title 아줌마 is not preferred too much. Many western people may be not sure of Asian women’s age with their looking. You can avoid using the direct titles until you can be sure of the person’s age or social status. 🙂

Sarah Yong (Korean Teacher)

A word on Culture: You

In the Korean language, the subject is quite often omitted. In one-to-one conversations, both speakers know who they talk to, and so Koreans believe that it is unnecessary to refer who is the subject.  Therefore, the word ‘you’ is not commonly used in conversations, particularly when meeting people for the first time. If you look up  ‘you’ in a English-Korean dictionary, you can find the direct translated word ‘당신’. However, this word is generally used for someone who is in a relationship with or someone who wants to express anger to the other party. Therefore, it is critical not to use this word easily otherwise it could be considered highly discourteous.

The first time you meet someone, after asking him or her for their name, you may call them by his or her full name or only their first name followed by 씨 (ssi) to indicate respect. For example, if you want to call someone, whose name is김민수, which consists of the last name 김(Kim) and the first name 민수(Minsu), you can call 김민수 씨 or 민수 씨. If the person that you meet is a close friend or a child, you usually use the word ‘너’ : it is an informal form of ‘you’. As this word is regarded as very informal, people do not easily use this word – even to someone who is far younger than them – as it is important for Koreans to display respect towards people, especially if they do not know very well the person who they are talking to.

Another way of calling people is by using work position titles instead of calling someone by using the personal pronoun ‘you’. For example if you are with someone at your work place, you can call him by his or her title such as director or manager. You usually attach님 at the end of the title to indicate respect. If you are not sure what his or her title is when you meet someone for the first time, you can introduce yourself with your position or exchange your business cards at the first meeting.

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