Although not everyone can fit so neatly into a list of personality traits, there are definitely some shared by most. Here’s a few we thought are pretty common in Korean people.
The most Korean of athletes are always nationalistic. Whether it be olympians that dedicate their victories to their home country, or MMA fighters that dedicate their wins to the Independence Day of Korea (UFC Fight Night 37), nearly all Korean athletes are loyal to their country. Koreans are raised to put their country before themselves, and that leads to nationalistic activists that fight for Korea’s ownership of the Dokdo Islands (aka Liancourt Rocks), expansion of Korea’s airspace territory, or even Koreans abroad fighting for renaming of the Sea of Japan (contested as the East Sea). Koreans are bred to be nationalistic, mostly with the phrase: Daehanminguk manse (대한민국 만세)! Victory to Korea!
South Korea is definitely on the forefront when it comes to the term “Save the Earth”! We always try to save on energy and recycling. The Korean government initiated a program throughout the country back in 2005 that tries to limit green house gases by conserving the energy costs of businesses through the Cool Biz program. Korea also takes its recycling programs serious! Bio-waste matter (left over food) is recycled through yellow plastic bags that are meant specifically for compost matter (which is rumored to be super eco-friendly and fed to pigs!). In addition, everything is separated by glass, plastic, cardboard and cans. And if you don’t believe us, watch your trash not get picked up!
Korea’s really a night owl’s paradise. After work, friends like to get together and have dinner with a few drinks. But going home right after that isn’t very Korean. Instead, there’s almost always a round 2 (2차 – i-cha) and sometimes rounds 3, 4 and 5, going on well past most people’s bedtimes. Good thing there are tons of businesses that stay open in the AM hours. From dinner, to drinks, to singing, to coffee and beyond, the ability to stay out late has become essential to making it here. But all that doesn’t mean Koreans get a free pass coming in late to work the next day. And that makes for a less romantic, Sleepless in
See how crowded Hongdae gets late at night:
Koreans are extremely emotional in all facets of life. It’s just another Korean personality trait. When a person dies in Korea, it’s not quiet; Koreans give new meaning to the word “cry.” But of course death is an emotional aspect for any culture. Just watch any show on Korean television, and you’ll see emotional underdog stories (as can be seen by this Superstar K video) and hear ultra sappy music, a part of any broadcasting company’s repertoire. Binge watch a Korean drama and you might have your fill of emotions for the week. And although life here isn’t like it is in the dramas, we can assure you that the emotions are definitely real!
Korea is quite literally one of the most connected nations on earth. And that means connectivity everywhere: in the subways, on top of mountains and even in elevators. Just watch any scene in a Korean subway; people are paying more attention to their phones than the people around. It’s kind of a sad really, but Koreans just can’t seem to let their batteries die or leave their house without their phones (is it just us?). If you’re addicted to your smartphone, you’ll fit in just fine here in Korea 😉
Korea has a long history with its neighbors to its east and west, and not all of it is bad. If you go to Japan, you’ll see the largest Korean immigrant population in the world. Many 3rd and 4th generation Japanese Koreans (zainichi) stick stubbornly to their Korean roots, even if they can’t speak a lick of Korean. The whole Japanese colonization of Korea thing is a pretty bad memory too. But even with all this history, there are tons of domestic Koreans that study abroad in Japan. Also, Kpop drew a lot of influence from Jpop in its early days. And Japanese food is also mega popular. It’s a complicated love/hate issue that’s best left to Asian Studies professors.
Read our not-so-complicated post on Understanding Racism in Korea.
Sex and the City is more than a few years past its prime. But with Sarah Jessica Parker and the gang came Korea’s obsession with trendy rooftop bars, swanky restaurants and brunch places for girl talk — all things Manhattan. Combine Korea’s New York obsession with romantic Parisian cafe culture and you got your own brand of Korean style coffee shops. London is glamorized for its fashion and regality (English accents anyone?). And it’s all fueled by romantic images of New York, Paris and London by the Korean media. Korea loves their cosmopolitan nature, and Seoul definitely strives to be just like them. It might take a few years, though ;). Go to Garosugil to see this obsession fueled inspiration in action.
Apple has got its marketing down. And as one of the most capitalistic nations in the world, Korea’s got to get it’s Apple fix. They’re trendy and most importantly look cool! Go to any cafe and you’ll see brand new AirMacs and MacBooks galore. But take a look at their screens and you’ll see them all running Windows. Many Korean websites are designed specifically for Internet Explorer, and using a MacBook would simply limit online experience. Many shopping websites can’t function without installing those pesky Windows security .exe files. But MacBooks are still cool, and Korea’s all about the cool ;).
There’s a lot of pressure to get ahead in all facets of life in Korea. Mothers with money will enroll their kids in English nurseries at close to $1000 USD a month so kids learn to speak without accents. Mothers with less money will send their kids to English academies (or Math, Science, History, etc.) to try to get a step ahead of everyone else. A large percentage of the population want envious jobs like lawyers, doctors or any position at Korea’s largest corporations (Samsung man!). Parents pressure their kids to get married by introducing potential spouses through really awkward match-making type blind dates (선). This all might seem pretty harsh, but many Koreans believe this mindset is a big part of how Korea dug itself out of 3rd world country status.
Koreans have a ppalli-ppalli (빨리빨리) culture (meaning “hurry, hurry”) which focuses on getting things done as quick as possible. Under the direction of Park Chung-hee, Korea’s President in the 70’s, Korea began to cultivate a sense of urgency which lives on today. Drivers in Korea are often similar to your friend that accelerates and stops because he’s always in a rush. Packages that MUST be delivered asap can be sent by Quick Service (퀵서비스), which guarantees extremely fast delivery. It’s become part of the Korean DNA. And although impatience might seem like a negative personality trait of Koreans, it’s also what makes Korea so adaptable and responsive to the newest trends (i.e. technology, infrastructure, etc.).
Does your culture share any of these Korean personality traits? Write a comment and let us know!