Article: 10 Things You Will Always Notice In Korean Shows And Movies

Over the past ten years, Korean pop culture, including music and TV, has gained intense popularity worldwide. With Bong Joon Ho's Parasite's monumental success, more and more people have awakened to the brilliance of K-dramas and movies. But whether you're new to embracing Hallyu (the Korean wave) or are a veteran, there are a lot of things that are bound to leave you confused while watching a K-drama. It is a globalized world we live in currently, so things might seem pretty familiar on the surface, but common Korean customs might seem unique to many of us.

Fret not; here's a little guide that might be a little helpful in navigating any K-drama or movie you want. You're welcome!

1. Mandatory Military Service

Conscription, or compulsory enlistment of men in military services, still exists in Korea. By law, male citizens have to enlist for military services for at least two years, between 18-28. Korean celebrities, including actors and K-pop idols, are not exempted from mandatory military services. The right to refuse enlistment didn't exist in South Korea until recently. In 2018, the South Korean Constitutional Court legalized conscientious objection as a basis for avoiding conscription.


2. Awkward Displays Of Affection

One of the evergreen questions that continue to make rounds of millions of subreddits is why do characters in K-dramas not know how to hug or kiss? Once you start watching Korean TV shows, you'll notice the lack of affection onscreen. The sparsely distributed scenes demonstrating material respect or 'skinship' (commonly referred to in Korea) are often awkward and stilted. Korean society is still conservative in many ways, so couples in Korea don't indulge in PDA in real life as it's considered inappropriate. They use other ways to show their affection, like wearing matching clothes or, sometimes, holding hands.


3. Respecting Older People And Seniors

Remnants of 500 years of Confucianism can still respect Korean society's elders and seniors. Seniority based on age, position in the family, or job title. While this might not seem out of place for us, as this is also a facet of Indian culture, some customs prove how ingrained this is in their daily lives. For instance, if you're out drinking with someone older than you, then it's customary to turn your head away from them while drinking. Also, when you receive something from an older or senior person, it's considered polite to use two hands while taking it. It goes for shaking their hands too.


4. The Importance Of Titles

In Korea, you call each other by their first names, considered disrespectful. Your title can depend on your job description or position in the family. It also depends on whether you're in a formal or an informal relationship with that person. For instance, if you're in a traditional setting, you add 'sshi' after the person's name to indicate respect. Another way of doing this is to add 'nim' to the end of their names. If you're talking informally, say to a friend or your partner, you add 'aa' or 'ya' to the end of their name. In the workplace, Koreans address each other using their rank or job title in the company and their names.


5. Work Dinners

After-work hangs and team dinners are so important in Korean culture that they have a term: Hoesik. You're obligated to attend these drink or dinner outings that can include your co-workers, supervisors, and sometimes CEOs. A way to increase the bond between co-workers. Homesick is an essential plot device in many K-dramas, where it gets used as a backdrop for whatever shenanigans the main leads have to pull. Homesickness is tedious and problematic in real life as the staff expects to uphold a strict code of conduct as this is considered an extension of the workplace. The #MeToo movement brought about significant change in corporate culture regarding Hoesik. Senior members of the company could no longer force the subordinates to attend these work dinners and drink excessively.


6. Intense Entrance Exams

While the pressure of cracking entrance exams to get into good universities is something we're all sadly familiar with, it takes a whole different form in South Korea. Once students enter the tenth grade, getting selected into the top three South Korean universities begins. The commonly accepted way is through cracking an entrance exam, or 'Suneung.' Students must undergo intensive preparations before they sit for the exams. There's a widespread belief that if you fail this exam, your entire life will be a failure. Wealthy and affluent people hire expensive tutors to help their children and give them an edge for cracking the exams. It expertly parodied in Korea's highest-rated TV show of all times, Sky Castle, a brilliant satire on the parent's and children's obsessive behavior regarding higher education.


7. Rigid Beauty Standards

It's not news that Korean beauty has taken over the world—the famous '10-step skincare routine' or the 'glass skin' trend are proof. But this also means that the beauty standards in Korean society are extraordinarily high and rigid. Due to this, the country has the highest ratio of plastic surgeries globally. It's widespread in both male and female Koreans, including people who are not even celebrities. Outer beauty is so important that it's one of the deciding factors in job hiring processes.


8. Obsession With Blood Type

Korean people might not care whether you're a Libra or a Gemini-Cancer cusp Mercury retrograde child. What they do want to know, however, is your blood type. Many Koreans associate blood types with personality traits that determine compatibility, likability, and even health status.


9. No Shoes Inside

No Korean TV character enters a household with their shoes on. They slip out of their regular shoes and wear special house slippers before entering the house. To avoid bringing the dirt and disease-causing bacteria from the outside to the inside. Koreans are particular about cleanliness, which is just a result of that.


10. Oppressive Celebrity Culture

If you've seen Her Private Life or Touch Your Heart, you'll know what we mean when we say that being a celebrity in South Korea is a curse and a blessing. The stars and icons have legions of fans following their every step, and if the celebrity fails to meet the standards set by their fans, they're either discarded or torn down. They're constantly under scrutiny by the press and the fans, and one misstep can cause their downfall. It is also why many celebrities don't disclose their relationship status to the public. The toxic celebrity culture also stems from the management agencies that effectively own these stars.