One day, I got this question about Korean culture from one of my blog followers.
Hello there. I live in Western Australia and just recently got hooked on Korean Dramas. There were a few scenes in which Koreans do things that I do not understand the meaning of.
So I started answering the questions (Thank you, Suzy) and have kept this list growing since then. Please, leave a question about Korean culture or anything related to Korea or contact me for the question.
1. Every time people got released from prison, someone offers them tofu. What is it with tofu? What does it mean?
There are several reasons why people offer tofu to someone who has just got released from prison.
First, it could mean to wish that the person lives a clean life without any trouble by eating tofu because tofu is white.
Second, in prions, meals usually include a bowl of rice mixed with beans. Tofu is made from beans, but it can’t go back to beans, so people offer tofu to wish the person doesn’t go back to prison again.
The last reason would be the most credible one. This tradition seems to start during the Japanese Occupation period. Many activists for Korean Independence were captured in prison and they were not treated and fed well by Japanese guards. When they finally got out of prison and eat something right away, they experience serious stomachaches and even some people died from it. Because tofu is easy to digest and highly nutritious, it was the first food that people offer to the activists released from prison.
2. When Korean say something wrong, they are pretending to spit. Why is that?
When Koreans say something unfavorable or unfortunate, we say ‘twe, twe, twe,’ which is the sound of spitting (not really spit, though). This means that I’d like to take back what I just said or I don’t want this thing to happen. This is quite similar to ‘knocking on wood‘ in the U.S.
3. Why are Koreans rarely seen barefoot without socks inside the house? Do you have to wear socks all day long?
This totally depends on the situation. Because Koreans take off shoes indoors, wearing socks has been natural. Thus, traditionally, showing barefoot to others could have been impolite or rude. But, this has changed a lot. Nowadays, on casual occasions, many people do not feel uncomfortable not wearing socks, especially during summertime. However, keep in mind that it is still safe to wear socks in a formal setting or at an important meeting in South Korea.
4. Why do Koreans throw salt on the people they despise?
A long, long time ago, people believed food went bad and got rotten because of evil spirits. They discovered salt kept food from going bad, and they started to believe salt could keep evil spirits away. Since then, people throw salt (or just say it) in order to push devils away after unwelcomed or despised people visit.
5. What was the type of clothing that women of Joseon Dynasty covered their faces with?
During Joseon Dynasty, women had to wear an overcoat when they went out in order to cover their faces. Due to strong Confucianism principles, women were not supposed to reveal their faces in public, especially to unacquainted men.
There were two types of hanbok overcoats for women: Jangot (장옷, the first picture above) and Sseugaechima (쓰개치마, the second picture). The main difference in style is that Jangot has sleeves and Sseugaechima does not. In the early Joseon Dynasty, nobles wore Sseugaechima and the common people wore Jangot. But, later there was not a clear division for who wears what.
Related Post: Are you a fan of historical Korean dramas? Read 10 Must-Know Korean Words in Historical K-dramas.
6. Why do many Korean restaurants set scissors on the table?
Koreans use scissors quite often to handle our food. For example, when you visit Korean BBQ restaurants, you will see scissors on every table. We cut meat, noodle, kimchi, and many types of food with scissors. Korean barbeque and naengmyeon (냉면/ cold noodle) are the most-known dishes for scissoring while being served. Although Koreans don’t use scissors for every dish (it would be rare to see someone cut ramyeon or fried chicken with scissors), Koreans don’t consider using scissors for food weird so if you need them for your dish, don’t need to be embarrassed to ask them.
7. Do Koreans Bow on Chuseok, too?
Koreans do a big bow called sebae (세배) on Seollal, Korean New Year’s Day. But, technically, there is no traditional bow on Chuseok. However, it can vary depending on families.