Wait… What? A Little Bit of Korean Culture Demystified

South Korea is a very different culture from the United States, but I absolutely love it. One thing I have learned from dating a Korean and spending some time in the country is that they are pretty superstitious. This isn’t weird for me. My grandmother has little saying she just spurts off whenever something peculiar happens. I don’t always understand, so I ask her what she means. I think about her response and just can’t really put the two things together logically, but I think it’s fun. And I always observe certain situations differently from then on. Korean culture is full of these neat little ways of thinking that any foreigner would be taken aback by. I certainly was.

Blood Type
For Americans, blood type is something we know for medical reasons and it doesn’t extend past that. I know mine and everyone in my family’s blood type. It’s just cautious knowledge (better safe than sorry… right?). When I was returning home after my second trip to Korea, HB’s sister took us to the airport and over lunch, she asked me my blood type. I told her and she assumed things about my personality. I just went along with it, but it was another one of those cultural things I just didn’t get at first. Well I came to find out that in Korea, it’s a totally different thing. Blood type is an indicator of personality in Korea. Here is a pretty universal description of the four blood types (A, B, AB, and O)*:

Blood Type A:
Positive Traits: Conservative, introverted, reserved, patient, punctual and inclined to be perfectionists.
Worst Traits: Obsessive, stubborn, self conscious and uptight.
Referred as ‘farmers’ in some descriptions, Type A’s are said to be considerate of others and loyal to a fault. They can also be secretive and reluctant to share their feelings. Apparently they don’t hold their liquor well, either.

While outwardly calm, they have such high standards (perfectionists) that they tend to be balls of nerves on the inside. Type A’s are the most artistic of the blood groups. They can be shy, are conscientious, trustworthy, and sensitive.

Blood Type B:
Best Traits: Animal-loving, creative, flexible, individualistic, optimistic and passionate.
Worst Traits: Forgetful, irresponsible and self-centered.
Referred to as ‘hunters’, Type B’s have very independent natures and tend not to be concerned about what other people think of them. Although often described as shallow and lazy, they can be quite passionate about the things they hold dear. Patience is not their strong suit either.

Type B men have acquired a very negative reputation in Korea and are not considered by many to be good husband material. Often described as ‘players’, they are perceived as being selfish and mercurial, quick to anger and not terribly reliable. That said, their bad boy image makes them very attractive to women, but not for the long term. (Type B women do not share in this bad rep, for some unexplained reason).

Goal oriented and strong minded, type B’s will start a task and continue it until completed, and completed well. Type B’s are the individualists of the blood group categories and find their own way in life.

Blood Type AB:
Best Traits: Cool, controlled, empathic, introverted and rational.
Worst Traits: Aloof, critical, indecisive and unforgiving.
Referred to as ‘humanists’, Type AB’s are said to be controlled more by their heads, than by their hearts. They are rational, good with money, but unpredictable. Although inclined to be distant, they prefer harmony and as such, work well with mediators. Some consider them two-faced, and therefore untrustworthy.

Type AB’s are the split personalities of the blood groups. They can be both outgoing and shy, confident and timid. While responsible, too much responsibility will cause a problem. They are trustworthy and like to help others.

Blood Type O:
Best Traits: Ambitious, athletic, robust and self-confident.
Worst Traits: Arrogant, insensitive, ruthless and vain.
Referred to as ‘warriors’, Type O’s are viewed as natural leaders and are often, also, natural athletes. They tend to be outgoing, expressive and passionate, but can also bore others to death with their obsessive drive for success coupled with their absolute convictions that they are winners. This certainty that they will always win explains why they aren’t afraid to take risks or gamble. They have a strong physical presence and are unlikely to ever be overlooked.

Type O’s are outgoing, and very social. They are initiators, although they don’t always finish what they start. Creative and popular, they love to be the center of attention and appear very self confident.

And here is the interesting part – compatibility chart:

  • A is most compatible with A and AB
  • B is most compatible with B and AB
  • AB is most compatible with AB, B, A and O
  • O is most compatible with O, and AB

Koreans are so obsessed with Blood Types that

  • Some of them mention their blood types on resumes
  • Even Korean Actors and Actresses mention their blood type on their online bio. Do you know both Lee Min Ho and Lee Hyori are  Type A personalities and have a very huge fan following throughout Asia.
  • Many Korean women not only refuse to date Type B men but they also reject Type B as potential marriage partners.
  • If two or three Koreans get together, they invariably end up chattering about blood types.

Small Faces
I have looked up all over the internet to try to understand this one, but… it still gets me. The first time I met HB’s brother, he said something that HB later translated for me. He relayed to me that  I looked like a nice person and that I had a small face. Uhm…thanks? Korea is a country where looks are very important. So much so that your application to companies and schools (yes, foreigners are not exempt from this rule) is accompanied by a picture that’s most likely been doctored by a photographer to mitigate any imperfections.

But it’s unfair to think this is a weird thing to obsess on. I have seen American make-up artists talk about the length of eyebrows being in relation to angels with the point of origin being your nose. In art classes, you learn to draw people by knowing the proportions for facial features or heads to the rest of the body. I even read an article before that basic attractiveness is naturally calculated by humans by ideal facial features in the perfect balance of size and shape. So it’s not really so weird when you think about it, but Korea is pretty up front about the importance of this quality. I read the rule of thumb is that if your face fits behind a compact disc, you’re good. I am fighting the temptation to get a CD right now to check! Just take it as a compliment if a Korean ever says you have a small face! I do now. 🙂

Light Skin
This one is pretty common in Asia and makes sense. Like I just mentioned, South Korea is a country completely obsessed with image and perfection. If you weren’t self conscious about how you looked before you visited, you might think about it a little more after being in Korea for some time. In Korea, women want light skin because it is thought of as beautiful. It’s not uncommon to see women walk around with parasols in the intense summer heat or wear long sleeves during the summer. Beauty products boast of their whitening potential.

Why? Well, the logic behind this is that back in older times when classes were more important to the working of society, lighter skin was an indicator of your social status. Farmers and lower class peoples working in the sun had darker skin and royalty and those of the upper crust did no manual labor and as a result, lighter skin. This translates into the idea of beauty today of white skin. I definitely loved to learn this when I went to Korea! My friends and family always tease me for being so pale, but here it’s beautiful!

Better Cover Up!
This sort of plays along with the last topic of lighter skin. Asia is generally a pretty conservative in a lot of ways, covering up isn’t an exception. But what is different from what you’d expect is how you should cover up. Back home in America, cleavage is everywhere. Tank tops, deep V-neck collars, sleeveless shirts, one-shoulder tops, I could go on. But in Korea, you’ll get more looks for dressing that way. I never thought about it, trends are slowly changing, but keep in mind that in Korea (and Japan) the neck is a sensual part of the body, so girls generally cover up up top. But anyone who listens to K-pop is shocked by how incredibly long girl group members’ legs seem to be. They go on for miles and miles it seems! Just look!



Another fun thing I learned about covering up and acceptable exposure is when you’re sleeping. I personally hate being hot and during the summer, Korea is HOT and HUMID. So I don’t like to sleep with blankets over me but over my feet. HB is a really sweet and considerate person so he kept covering me up and I would throw the blankets right back off. He finally explained that Koreans believe that you should cover your stomach so as to not catch cold. Back home, I was told to make sure your feet were at least covered. Funny how things work!

So these are just a few of the things that you might observe in Korea that a foreigner might not understand at first. I think the thing that I hope any visitor to the country would do would try to learn about the culture more when they experience different and new things. Since I was a child I was exposed to many cultures, and probably the most important thing I took away from my experiences was that everything has a story behind it and a reason. So try to enjoy intercultural experiences and learn as much as you can. Being cultured doesn’t mean being well-traveled, but having a broader perception of the world.

*From thekoreaguide.com


2 thoughts on “Wait… What? A Little Bit of Korean Culture Demystified

  1. grace

    saw this certain photo online,,maybe an actress, measuring her face on national tv —17cm… i was like, why is it a big deal? and got curious so I took a measuring tape and measure my own face as well haha,,it’s 18cm,,so,,im considered good in korea right? lol

    1. You might just be! But also, there are some features they also really find attractive. I am half middle eastern so my high nose, big round eyes they love, my german/irish mother’s pasty white skin and light brown hair are also what they want. So here most people comment my appearance, children are comfortable with me, etc. The idea of beauty is very restricted here. THey have such an ideal type and if you have it you can really excel (with job prospects, etc.).

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