|Understanding Korean Dramas
The first and 60th birthdays are the most important for
Koreans. The first birthday is celebrated by placing the
child, dressed in traditional Korean clothes, in front of a
table with food and objects. The child is urged to pick
up one of the objects. Depending on which object the
child selects, one supposedly can foretell the child's
future. For example, if the child picks up money, he will
be rich. If he picks up a book, he will be a scholar. If he
picks up food, he will be a government official.
The 60th birthday represents the completion of a zodiac
cycle and is celebrated by family members offering the
birthday person food, drink and best wishes for a long
To signal someone to come using hand motions, Koreans
point their palm downward (instead of upwards) and
then motion their fingers like we do. Japanese also point
their palm downward when beckoning.
The Korean language uses the Hangul alphabet, which
now consists of 24 letters (10 vowels and 14
consonants). The vowels and consonants are combined
to make syllables. Syllables usually have at least 2, but
no more than 4, letters.
Non-Koreans who read the English subtitles of Korean
dramas will usually not be able to detect the style of
Korean being spoken in the drama. From time to time,
however, one character in the drama will tell another
character not to speak so formally or that it is okay to
speak informally. That is because there are four styles of
speech in Korean: formal, informal polite, informal and
--The FORMAL style is used when a high level of
respect must be shown and when men speak to strangers.
--The INFORMAL POLITE style is used by people
who know each other, but still need to show respect due
to age or social status, and when women and young
people speak to strangers.
--The INFORMAL style is used by people who know
each other, but are not close friends or where there is a
slight age difference.
--The INTIMATE style is used between siblings,
spouses, close friends and associates of the same age or
|The Jang Family from the MBC
weekend drama, Mothers and Sisters
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Korean television broadcasting started in 1956. Today,
there are five Korean-language TV networks (non-cable):
--KBS1 (Korean Broadcasting System) - no
commercials are shown on this network.
--KBS2 (Korean Broadcasting System)
--MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Company)
--SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System)
--EBS (Educational Broadcasting System)
Korea also has many cable TV stations.
South Korean currency is called won. The symbol for
won is a capital W with 2 horizontal lines across it.
Since the won symbol is not available on this website, I
am using W instead.. Bills are available in denominations
of W1,000, W5,000 and W10,000. Coins are available
for W1, W5, W10, W50, W100 and W500. As of
April 4, 2001, one US $1.00 equals W1,369.
Tipping is not practiced by native Koreans in Korea.
However, tourists are expected to tip for tourist-related
servies (for example, travel guides expect to receive a tip
from foreign tourists). In tourist hotels, a mandatory
10% service charge is common.
The South Korean government will pay you
W1,000,000 to W5,000,000 for each North Korean
spy you report.
Due to the freezing winter climate, most Korean homes
do not have many windows or doors. Ondol, a
heat-radiating network of pipes under the floor, is used
to warm certain rooms in the house. Originally, ondol
involved circulating exhaust fumes from the kitchen range
through flues under the floor. However, since carbon
monoxide poisoning could occur if cracks developed in
the floor, modern ondol systems instead pump hot water
through the pipes to heat the floors.
Since heat emanates from the floors using ondol,
Koreans sit and sleep on the floor to take advantage of
the warmth. Traditionally, the floors are covered with
lacquered paper which turns yellow with age. Nowdays,
the floors are covered with linoleum, and oil (rather than
charcoal) heaters are used to heat the water.
For articles about Korean culture and customs, click
Recommended books on learning Korean:
If you want a more comprehensive approach to
learning Korean, here are textbook series used to
teach Korean at the university level: