Friday, February 21, 2014

Valentine's Day and Korea's Couple Culture

The other day I received a Valentine's Day card in the mail from one of my friends back home.  I put the card that says "Happy Valentine's Day" in large letters on my desk in the teacher's room.  I didn't really think anything about it, but then yesterday one of the other English teachers came over to greet me and said, "Oh, you have a Valentine's Day card?"  I proudly replied that yes, one of my friends had sent it from home.  She looked at me and said "But you're a girl?"

I had forgotten that in Korea Valentine's Day is a day where girls give guys chocolate.  Then, in March (I think March 14th, also called White Day), the guys give the girls candy.  So, what is just one day that celebrates love in America, is split up into two days in Korea.  But don't worry, there's also a day for all of us single people out there as well. April 14th is Black Day, a day where single people eat jajangmyeon (noodles with a black sauce).

You might think this is a bit much, but it's not surprising given the fact that Korea has a very strong couple culture.  Just about everyone in Korea wants to be in a relationship.  Ok, most people in America do too, but the idea of being single and ok with it is completely foreign to most Koreans.  Hence why to this day, when I get asked if I have a boyfriend and reply that I don't, I always get asked "why not?!"

When you're walking around Korea, it's not uncommon to see couples wearing matching clothes.  Yes, guys and girls alike, both voluntarily walk around wearing identical clothing.  I noticed this A LOT last time I was in Seoul--especially when it came to having the same winter jackets. You can read more about this phenomenon in this article:

This is an outward display of relationships, but there are also many other couple traditions. In Korea, couples celebrate their 100 day anniversary.  If you look along walls at touristy places you can see couple names with a "100" written around them.  I also heard that they celebrate every 100 days...but I've mostly only heard my students talking about the importance of the 100 day mark (maybe that's just because of the nature of high school relationships?)

Another definitive thing about Korea's couple culture is the prevalence of couple rings.  When I first arrived in Korea I was confused as to why everyone thought that the fact that I wore rings meant that I had a boyfriend.  Then I found out that it's common for couples to wear matching rings--I'm not sure if there's a certain amount of days they wait before they get the couple rings, but it's pretty common and thus, the reason my students always point to my rings and say "oh, boyfriend?"

Everywhere you go in Korea there are photo opportunities for couples.  You see large hearts everywhere, with couples lining up to get their picture together.  One of the things that surprised me when I first came to Korea was how comfortable guys are with being "cute".  My male students don't have any problem singing an emotional love ballad or admitting that they want a girlfriend.  I don't know about you all, but I can't imagine any guys in American being ok with wearing matching clothing with their girlfriends or voluntarily wearing any rings besides a wedding ring.

These are some of the main ways Korea's couple culture manifests itself.  There are other romantic holidays--Pepero Day and CHRISTMAS....Yes, Christmas is not about family here. Instead it's all about going on a romantic date.  Anywho, some people are really bothered by the couple culture here, but for the most part I just find it interesting.  The only thing that really bothers me is the idea that if you're single it's a bad thing--that you NEED to be in a relationship. Of course, this attitude is also prevalent in America, but I have noticed it much more strongly in Korea. I always try to tell my students (especially the girls), that it's ok to be single and that they should be ok to feel free and independent.  I don't think I really get through to them, but hey, you never know.

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