13 Surprising Facts About Korea

Who here has been to, or is planning to go to Korea? If so, raise your hands!

Not long ago, Korea was a small, developing nation closed off to much of the world. However, these days that is rapidly changing.

Korea has definitely been getting an increasing amount of publicity around the world. In Asia, it’s a lot about K-pop, cosmetics, and Korean dramas. In the West, we often hear news about their neighbors up North. People all around the world hear about Korea’s love for plastic surgery. All of these factors have led to a greater interest in Korea, and also studying the Korean language. Besides the reasons for Korea’s fame, there are a lot of unique and interesting facts that you don’t hear about until you are actually experiencing everyday life here. Below are 13 facts about Korea that may surprise you!

We realize that a lot of people who read this may be interested in learning some Korean. Therefore in addition to each fact, we have added in one key vocabulary that relates to that point. If you can’t read 한글 (Korean alphabet) yet, you can learn it for free in about one hour by downloading a free guide here.

1. Are You My (Blood) Type?

Similar to their next-door neighbors in Japan, Koreans think that there is some significance to their blood type. While people in other countries may or may not know their blood type, every Korean certainly does know his or hers! In Korea, blood types are thought to contribute to a person’s personality and characteristics. Additionally, blood types can used to help choose a spouse since your partner’s blood type may not be a good match for yours. For example, Type B females should look for Type O males. Type AB males will also do, but stay away from Type As! While not everyone believes in this, expect to hear about it while you’re in Korea.

For those who want to study Korean, you can ask someone’s blood type by asking about their 혈액형 (blood type).

2. Happy Birthday + 1!

When Koreans are born, they’re automatically one year old. There are different schools of thought as to why this is. One explanation is that people think it’s because the baby is in the mother’s womb for 9 months, which is about 1 year. Therefore the baby is 1 year old when born. The method for calculating this is a little tricky since it can vary with the lunar calendar, solar calendar, and your birthday. The simplest way to answer the age question in Korea is to just tell them the year you were born. If you want to use a simple Korean age calculator, this formula should do the trick:

(Current year – your birth year) + 1 = Your Korean age

For example:

(2014 – 1985) + 1 = 30 years old

(2014 – 1991) + 1 = 24 years old

If you want to add some useful vocab to the Korean study flashcard deck, try adding in 만나이 (international age).

3. Fan Death

There is an urban legend in Korea that electric fans that are left on while you are sleeping in a room with the windows and door closed can cause death. It is believed that the fan can lower the body temperature and cause hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature). Koreans also believe that the fast moving air caused by the fan makes it difficult to breathe, causing people to choke. Because of these beliefs, automatic shutoff timers on fans in Korea are seen as a life-saving feature. Not all Koreans believe this, but for the one’s that do, it’s best to not try to sway them. Even if you are able to scientifically or logically prove your point, you’re still likely to be doubted. Best to steer clear of the fan death topic all together.

Study the Korean word 선풍기사망설 (fan death) if you want to know the right word for this phenomenon!

4. Largest Drinkers in Asia

It’s said that when Koreans try something, they go hard at it. Football (soccer), spicy food, and definitely drinking! Many are surprised to see that Koreans are the top drinkers in Asia by far. According to the World Health Organization, they consume an average of 12.3L of alcohol per year, and are ranked #17 in the world!

Koreans drink more alcohol per person per year, than Germany, the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and Australia! A big contributor to this esteemed award is the consumption of soju. Soju is usually around 19% alcohol content and is commonly drunk with main meals.

Have you had a long night out in Korea? If you’re out at a restaurant in Korea and you want to study Korean, look for the word 해장국 (hangover soup). This is one of many Korean hangover cures!

5. The North and South Are Still at War

Although we often hear news about the possible threats from North Korea, most South Koreans don’t think much of it. While living here, it almost feels like it’s a completely safe situation. The two Koreas may not be battling it out on a day-to-day basis, but they still haven’t made up. In 1953, the two sides agreed to a truce. However, as you head to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone border), you’ll notice that there is still quite a bit of tension there.

You can add to your Korean study vocabulary with the use of the word 비무장지대 (DMZ).

6. The DMZ Wildlife Haven

The Demilitarized Zone is a 4km wide by 248km long stretch of land that separates the North from the South on the Korean peninsula. While most of the natural wildlife and rare plants have been killed off in the South, the DMZ hasn’t been touched in over 60 years. That means that unique species of plants and wild animals have been able to flourish, unharmed by the hand of man. Photographers have been able to enter the DMZ and take photos of flora and fauna that existed long before the peninsula became heavily populated with people. If the two Koreas are ever united, there has been talk of making the DMZ a peace park to continue to preserve the wildlife. Unfortunately, some South Koreans are indifferent to what happens to the DMZ. With soaring house pricing in Seoul, it’s a possibility that the area would be demolished to build more apartment complexes.

An easy word to add to your Korean study material is아파트 (apartment), which also sounds like the word “apartment.”

7. Silly Rabbit, Valentines Day Is For Guys

Just when you thought there were enough Hallmark holidays, South Korea upped the ante and introduced “White Day”. White Day is essentially another Valentines Day, held a month later on March 14th. The interesting thing about this holiday is that Valentine’s Day is a day where the males receive chocolate from females, while girls receive sweets on White Day. Mark your calendars, that is one day you don’t want to make a mistake with your significant other!

You can brush up on your Konglish Korean study by learning the word 화이트데이 (White Day).

8. Christmas Couples, New Year Families

For many people around the globe, Christmas is a time to return back to your hometown and spend time with family. New Years, on the other hand is typically a party environment spent with friends at a pub, club, or house party. Korea is almost the opposite. Koreans spend their Christmas day with their significant other. It’s not that critical that they see their families on this day. While New Year’s IS celebrated, it’s not a huge celebration. Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year, and is celebrated in the first two months of the year (depending on the lunar calendar). Around this time, a large percentage of Koreans travel to their hometowns to visit family. If you’re planning to do any road trips around that time, make sure to factor in a few extra hours of road time!

설날 (Lunar New Year) is a common word in Korea, so it’s a good word to know when you study Korean!

9. Title Bout

Korean culture is very hierarchical, much of it based on age. Only in specific situations are you allowed to call someone by their first name. Otherwise, you need to refer to them by title. At the workplace, this can be somewhat confusing, especially if you’re managing someone who is older than you. This is also the case for home and family life. Getting the titles right is critical, and can be a point of strife if family members don’t recognize rank. The good news is that these situations make for great drama storylines. Just when you thought that discovering your long-lost twin brother while battling through amnesia wasn’t enough, you get some bonus conflict!

If you’re looking for the word for “title” as you study Korean, check out 호칭 (title).

10. Tetraphobia

In case you’re not up on your phobia lingo, tetraphobia means to avoid the number four. As in other parts of Asia, 4 is an unlucky number in Korea. Therefore, in elevators you’ll often see floors 1, 2, 3, and F. Apartments that have numbers with multiple 4s (ex. 404) are often avoided, and the property values are lower. The reason behind this is that the word for 4 in Korean is similar to the word for death.

The number “four” in Korean is 사, which also means “death”. A two-birds-with-one-stone Korean study word!

11. Spam Gifts

Shortly after the Korean War, there were few refrigerators or protein-dense foods. Koreans would barter with American troops for the canned delight and came up with a recipe called bujae jiggae (army stew). As Korea continued to develop, Spam turned into a staple food and now occupies a warm place in the hearts of Koreans. Since Spam has become a comfort food, it is often a common gift that is given during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). So the next time you’re in Korea in the fall, look out for shelves stocked with deluxe canned meat gift sets.

Want to learn the word “Spam” when you study Korean? Then 스팸(Spam) is what you need!

12. Toilet Paper Warms the House

Moving into a new house in Korea? If you’re planning on having a housewarming party after the move in, don’t bother buying toilet paper or laundry detergent. You’ll get plenty of it as gifts! While you may need to clear out some space in your house to stockpile all the extra household supplies, the great thing about this tradition is that it makes picking out housewarming presents a piece of cake. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is whether to buy Kleenex brand or 깨끗한나라 (Clean Country) brand.

13. Live Octopus

One thing that certainly stands out about Korea is its cuisine. Not only because of it’s rich flavor and wide variety, but also because of Koreans’ love for freshness. Apparently raw octopus isn’t good if it’s not squirming around in your mouth, so Koreans skip out on the cooking part. Some will cut up the octopus and put in in a bowl. Others cut off the legs while it’s still alive, eat the legs, and toss the rest of the octopus body into a stew. Tentacular!

If you’re mouth is watering at the thought of some squirming octopus, you can study Korean while you dine by asking for some 산낙지 (live octopus).


What do you find most interesting in Korea? Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences; we’d love to hear from you!

Photo Credit: Michelle Tribe

Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn

Korean lessons   *  Korean Phrases    *    Korean Vocabulary *   Learn Korean   *    Learn Korean alphabet   *   Learn Korean fast   *  Motivation    *   Study Korean  


Please share, help Korean spread!