Just like in your culture, Korea has its own superstitions. And these superstitions refer specifically to gifts! Make sure you don’t give the following:
Knives, Scissors (or anything else sharp)
You’re watching the home shopping network and see a set of Ginsu Knives on sale, and you think it’ll make the perfect gift for your Taekwondo teacher. But no matter how awesome it looks slicing paper on the infomercial, this is one gift you shouldn’t give to Koreans. That’s because giving this gift represents the cutting of your relationship. Traditionally, many Koreans refused to give knives, scissors or anything else used for cutting because they didn’t want to severe any relationships. Instead, if you are ultra convinced that your friend will have such a great time using those knives to carve metal cans and furniture, what you can do is exchange a little bit of money. If you give a small amount of money to the gift giver, it will turn the gift into a purchase, and no relationships will be cut. Only random objects around the house :).
Our video on Korean dating superstitions has a perfect example of a gift you should never give. If your Korean girlfriend is a marathon runner, and you think she’ll cross the finish line a few minutes faster with a new pair of Nikes, go right ahead and give her that gift. But she might do a bit more running than just a marathon. In Korea, there’s a superstition that says if you give a loved one (guy or girl) a pair of shoes, that he or she will run away from you. If you’re a girl, this might be a good superstition anyway. Guys are terrible at guessing what women like to wear!
Handkerchiefs are great gifts that everyone can use for multiple purposes. They clean up cold winter snot, wipe up tteokbokki stains on your shirt and can be put into suit pockets to make anyone look like a million bucks. But this lesser known Korean superstition focuses on the fact that handkerchiefs are often used for cleaning up sad and sorrowful tears or sickly snot and coughs. Although it’s a superstition, many Koreans still abide by it because they don’t want any sadness or sickness for their boyfriend or girlfriend. So when you’re hanging out with your sick boyfriend, don’t give him your handkerchief. Just hand him those extra McDonalds napkins in your purse ;).
Cards in Red
Thoughtful people like to go a step further and write a little card while giving a gift. It’s a nice little space where you can write down that hilarious memory of your friend eating live octopus while a watching a super funny Korean karaoke video and then laughing so hard a tentacle shot right out of his mouth. Ahh… memories :). But when you pick up that pen, be sure you pay attention to the color. Red writing, especially when writing names, represents death in Korea. There’s an old and long history of names written in in blood resulting in someone’s death. And that old superstition still lives true today. Even though it’s specifically for names, an entire card in red might make a Korean cringe a little. So just pick up another one!
Where are you from? And what gifts should we not give in your country? Write a comment!
Also, you might find this other Korean superstition post pretty fun
Unusual Korean Superstitions that Kill, Blind and Haunt!