KoreanTV: Small Observances

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Some of the small things I notice watching #KoreanTV:

1. We open the longest side of an envelope in order to put paper in or remove it. Koreans, apparently, open the narrow end. (I would think paper would be harder to slide in without crumpling this way, but they’ve been doing it for a very long time, so I guess they have the technique down.)

2.While they predominantly eat with chopsticks, very liquid food – stews and soups – are eaten with very long-handled spoon. (I can barely keep soup on a spoon without spilling it with our spoons. It would be a spray-fest if I had to use those long-handled ones.)

3. I’ve noted this before, but I’m still constantly struck by the wearing of overcoats indoors. It’s most notable when they eat meals with overcoats on.

4. It is de rigueur to remove your shoes when entering a home. It’s considered an insult not to. I’ve yet to see where all the guest slippers come from. What I find very touching is that a common gesture of sweetness is turn a person’s shoes around for them. When that person is preparing to leave, their shoes are already facing the direction they are headed.

5. When we want to gesture to someone to come toward us, we extend our arm, turn a palm up and bend all the fingers inward and back out a couple of times. For Koreans the gesture is to extend your arm, palm down, hand extended and to bend all the fingers down and up a couple of times. The first few times I saw this, I was confused, thinking the person was saying “go away” and the other person was ignoring them and coming toward them, anyway.

6. It’s a very intimate gesture there to rub the side of someone’s head, it’s almost a patting of the head but there is an up and down motion. This is reserved for lovers and maybe parents. I’ve yet to see it executed where it doesn’t look incredibly stiff and awkward. Perhaps it would seem less so if it didn’t seem so restrained, as if they were afraid to have the hand actually touch any strands beyond the surface layer. I don’t know. Something about it always looks robotic.

7. Hugs are so often one-way actions. You don’t offer a hug in order to receive one. It is a giving gesture. At first, I saw these as odd. It seemed like the receiver was uncomfortable and didn’t want to be hugged. In reality, they are allowing themselves to simply receive. Something, we don’t often make enough space for. After a while, I figured it out and have gained an appreciation for the one-way hug. Sometimes, the hugs are reciprocated. It takes a while. The receiver will accept the hug for a while before responding by putting their arms around the giver.

8. The one-way hug may be why the “back hug” is a thing. Since you’re not expecting a hug in return, hugging someone from the back makes it very clear that you are simply offering comfort, affection or whatever. It’s apparently considered a very, very romantic gesture.

9. Meals are mostly “family style” with everyone serving themselves out of the many dishes on the table. Each person will have a bowl for rice and they will add a bit of something, take a bite, then add something else, etc. A common gesture of affection or respect is for someone to place a bit of meat or whatever is special on the table on the top of your rice for you. I’m going to guess that this developed as a way of saying, “making sure you get some of this” because at a communal table the favorite foods could be grabbed up pretty quickly.

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