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Korean Customs and Beliefs

written by: Tarun Goel • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Although the Korean state is divided into two different countries, traditional culture and customs are shared by both the countries. Music, dance, painting, literature and crafts are important parts of the Korean culture. The customs of the Korean people are discussed in detail in this article.

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    Korea – Divided by Boundaries, United by Culture

    Until 1948, Korea was a single country on the world map but political unrest resulted in a division of the region into two countries with different political ideologies. However, culture and traditional values of the region still bind these two countries with each other. The Korean language is spoken in both the countries and a similar family system is followed in both countries. Globalization has made certain changes to the family patterns and social structure, predominantly in South Korea because of its flexible policies, which is not the case with North Korean politics. As good and old habits die hard, both the Korean countries are still deep rooted in their culture and traditions. Influenced by the philosophical brilliance of Confucius, Koreans believe in family, community and society, unlike western ideology of individualism.

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    A Korean Family

    Family is the most important part of Korean society and they lead a family oriented life where the father is the head of the family. Families following Confucius and his teachings firmly believe that the father must take care of the health, shelter, food and marriage of his family members. Hierarchical structure is evident in a conventional Korean family. The eldest son will help his father in all the family matters, must obey his father and follow his decisions. The old school says that womenfolk must not indulge in decision making and only males must handle the external affairs. However, this thinking pattern is changing with time as more and more women are emerging as leaders, business executives and teachers. Individual dreams and needs are secondary and family welfare is the first and foremost goal of every family member. Confucius and his teachings have a deep impact on Koreans and that's why they believe in duty, loyalty, honor and sincerity.

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    Korean Beliefs and Practices

    Koreans believe in sincerity and following protocols while meeting, eating, praying or even celebrating is very important. Let us have a look at different Korean etiquette in this section of the article.

    Bowing is equivalent to the handshake in Korean culture. Bowing means showing gratitude and respect to the person you are meeting with. The younger generations have blended the western culture with their native culture by shaking hands after bowing to each other.

    Koreans like to stay in touch with their friends and family. Gifts have remained an integral part of their culture; however, gifts are always given according to the capacity and affordability of the other person because Koreans firmly believe in reciprocating. The quantity or numbers also add value to your gifts; seven is considered as a lucky number so anything in multiples of seven will be accepted heartily. However, they avoid giving anything that falls in the multiple value of four because Koreans consider four as an unlucky number. Red, yellow and pink colors denote happiness and prosperity in the Korean culture. The use of white, black or green colors for wrapping is offensive and must be avoided.

    Kimchi 

    Korean food and drinks add flavor to their traditional lifestyle and rice malt served with kimchi is their specialty. Cold noodles, bibimbap, bulgogi and dakgalbi are some of the world famous Korean dishes. However, dining and eating means following a strict protocol. No indoor farewells, the removal of shoes before entering the house or dining room, and most importantly, only male hosts will serve the drinks.

    Buddhism is the main religion in Korea and its teachings reflect in Korean lifestyle, culture and arts. Numerous Buddhist statues, monuments and temples have been included in the National Treasure and Monument list by the government. Manja, the Korean version of the Swastika, is major symbol of Korean Buddhism and it can be seen outside temples and religious places in Korea.

    Korean culture is incomplete without pottery and ceramics. Pottery is Korea's cultural emblem and it started hundreds of years ago. Today, celadon, a Korean blue-glazed pottery, is famous all over the world. This pottery style was passed on to the Japanese by the Koreans.

    A Korean marriage does not mean the union of two individuals only, but also the unification of two families and two different lifestyles. Matchmaking with the help of matchmakers (Eui Hon), wedding parade on a pony, bowing to the members of family (Gyobaerye), couple drinking from the same cup (Hapgeunrye) and bridal procession (Wugwi) are major rituals of a traditional Korean marriage.Korean costume-Hanbok 

    Traditional clothes are the pride of the Korean people. Hanbok is the name given to traditional Korean attire. It is worn in marriage ceremonies, family functions and traditional festivals. It is also the official government and national dress in Korea. People of all ages wear it with pride because it is one of the emblems of their cultural identity.

    Knowing and understanding these customs is important because while visiting the country, you must abide to their rules and customs; otherwise, you might end up in an embarrassing situation because western practices and customs are totally different from the customs of the Korean people.

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    References

    References

    Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, http://www.mct.go.kr/english/useful/usefulList.jsp

    The Korean Hanbok, http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/korea/cel/hanbok.htm

    Soon Kim, Weol, An Introduction to Korean Culture for Rehabilitation Service Providers, http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/culture/monographs/korea.pdf

    Images

    Kimchi by Nagyman under CC BY 2.0

    Korean Costume Hanbok by Caspian blue under CC BY 2.0