Thursday, May 29, 2008

Meet the Koreans

Dear Korean,

How to make Korean parents warm to the idea of a white girl who wants to marry their only son?


Dear Korean,

I am a Singaporean and I have been with my Korean boyfriend for 6 months. I am due to meet his parents next month. I speak no Korean and they speak no English. He has a sister who speaks English. I was wondering if I need to impress her. Are Korean mothers influenced much by what their daughters say? I am wondering what are the potential boo-boos I may commit and how deferential should I be to them? When my boyfriend was in Singapore, he was constantly bowing to my parents. No offense to be extra polite, but I am paranoid that I may come across as rude if I forget to bow or something. Moreover, how should I react at dinner? Can I speak? Can I eat before his parents do? Must I finish all the food? Am I expected to help set the table or clear the table? And how should I dress? Most importantly, what kinds of gifts are suitable for a first time meeting?


Dear Korean,

I’m getting ready to pop the question to my girl, but want to make sure I do it correct in her families eyes, as well as hers. I am obviously not Korean, but am a white American. I’m in my late thirties, she in her early thirties, so you can just imagine the questions she is hearing from the family whenever she visits. She moved to the US on her own to go to graduate school, and her family soon followed. The rest of her family now lives on the opposite coast of us, so I haven't had the opportunity to meet her family yet. She is the oldest daughter, and would be the first to get married. Anything I should consider before popping the question that would be detrimental to our future if not done correctly? I have a Korean co-workers who could not get married because the families did not get along, and that scares the piss out of me....


Dear Korean,

I am Swiss and engaged with a Korean girl. But her dad is very conservative and seems to be not happy with the fact that his daughter is going to get married with a non-Korean guy. So I am going to see him for the second time in two weeks, but this time he is going to ask me a lot of questions (my girlfriend said) and I have no idea what is he going to ask me and what is he excepting from me to answer!! Could you help me please? I really want to be in good term with her family as they are going part of my family soon.


Dear Korean,

I am visiting Korea next month to visit my boyfriend and his family. What type of gifts should I bring his family? On the Internet, it suggests whisky/scotch for the father, a designer type handbag for mother. Any other ideas? I want to be respectful and make a good impression--do you have a list of 'taboos' -things to avoid, as well as things I should be sure to do in order to be accepted?


Dear Korean Fever Sufferers,

Boy, that’s a popular question. After all, the most popular question to this humble blog is about dating Koreans, so it should not be a surprise that the next step of dating is a popular topic as well.

What are Korean parents like? Again, the Korean urges all of you to not fixate on the parents’ Koreanness, but on the fact that they are parents. Parents worry about their children, and they care about with whom their children are spending the rest of their lives. Every parent in the world would be like this, except only in differing degrees. Some parents care deeply, and some not so much. Likewise, some Korean parents care deeply, and some not so much.

However, on average, you can expect Korean parents to be more protective about their children than American parents, for largely two reasons. First, Korean parents on average tend to invest more into their children. (Doesn’t placenta injection say it all?) So naturally there is more resistance when some random dude/hussy swoops in to snatch their children away. This is more the case if the child is the only child, or is wildly successful. (= doctors, lawyers, professors.) A lot of time and money went into raising that doctorlawyerIndianchief son/daughter.

Second, on the flip side, Korean children tend to be more dependent on their parents for longer period of time. In the U.S., there is (arguably) a clean break between high school and college through which young people step into adulthood. They go away for college or get a job. But since Korea has inadequate college tuition assistance/work study programs compared to the U.S., Korean students must rely on their parents for the college tuition. Also, because everything – people, good schools, good jobs – is concentrated in Seoul, there is no place for young people to go away to. Instead they usually live with their parents into mid-20s, only moving out when they get married. Therefore, marriage is often the first time the parents are separated from their children.

The protectiveness is compounded if a Korean child is marrying a non-Korean. Average Korean parent is concerned about their children being taken away when they are marrying another Korean. Imagine how they would feel when their children are marrying a non-Korean; they react like Martians are abducting their children. On top of that, many Koreans are racists, and generally hate everyone who is not Korean – particularly if darker. The prospect of having mongrel grandchildren (from a racist Korean’s perspective) is not very appealing either.

Herein lies the clue about what to do with Korean parents. All the taboos and do’s-and-don’t’s are secondary to this most paramount concern: you must convince the parents that their child is not going anywhere. Show your willingness to visit them often, and your willingness to do things the Korean way without challenging the parents’ authority. That includes learning basic Korean, eating all Korean food well, celebrating Korean holidays, vowing to teach children Korean language and culture, learning Korean etiquettes, and so on.

With that grand aim in mind, here are some basic pointers.

- Dress well. Collared shirt and slacks for men; wearing a suit and tie is not overdoing it. For women, very conservative dress - absolutely no pants or cleavage. Pretend you are going to meet the President and you would have it about right.

- Learn a lot of Korean. You have to be able to talk with the parents. Call them eomeonim (mother) and abeonim (father), as married people are supposed to consider in-law parents as their own.

- This may be too obvious, but the Korean has seen it happen: DO NOT CALL THEM BY THEIR NAMES. You NEVER address your elder/superior by their names – slapping them in the face would be less rude than that.

- Do not show any affection to your boyfriend/girlfriend. Any display of affection is considered crass; it’s definitely not something you do before your elders. Keep your significant other at an arm’s length without drifting away from him/her. Do not look at him/her, and definitely do not touch him/her. Try not to talk to your boyfriend/girlfriend unless absolutely necessary. Holding hands might be ok.

- This is slightly over the top, but it will impress the parents about the knowledge of Korean etiquette: do a deep bow (jeol) for them when you meet. (You can see the example here. Click the picture to make it move.) Deep bow is now rarely used in Korea other than special situations, but accepting two new people as your own parents count as such a situation.

- If you happen to sit on the floor instead of on a chair, kneel until you are told otherwise. This won’t be comfortable, but your comfort should be the last one of your concerns. By making yourself uncomfortable, you are signaling respect.

- Do not look elders in their eyes. Locking eyes is very rude. When you talk, keep your gaze slightly low. (As an aside, after more than a decade in the U.S., the Korean still cannot look people in their eyes when he talks. He stares at people’s mouths instead.)

- When eating, dare to eat the most exotic looking thing on the table. Finish your food, and look happy as you eat – if you don’t like Korean food, you have no chance.

- Do not touch anything on the table (including utensils) until the eldest person (usually the father) begins eating. Do not leave the table until the eldest person leaves. Say thank you before and after the meal.

- Learn to use chopsticks gracefully, not like a freakin' toddler.

- Listen a lot, speak little, agree always. Especially if you are a woman.

- If you are a man, drink. You are not a man if you do not drink. Pour drinks with two hands, and receive drinks with two hands. Never pour yourself. For your first sip, turn your head away as you drink.

- If you are a woman, help out in the kitchen. Help setting up and cleaning. Knowing how to cook Korean food is a plus. (Are these things sexist? You bet they are, but your aim is to please sexist people. Koreans are about 70 percent likely to be racist, but 95 percent likely to be sexist.)

- Bring gifts. Scotch is a great idea for fathers, and so is a designer bag for mothers, because generally things that are relatively cheap outside of Korea are good. Health products are good as well. But they do not have to be expensive – not at the first meeting anyway. Flowers would often suffice. Do not forget about grandparents or other relatives if they are in the picture.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Interesting...

    How much of this advice have you employed in your own dating history?

  2. LOL..

    Oh man... I found your blog through Korea Beat and just reading that first post made me add you to my daily blogroll.

    I remember the first time I came to Korea (for my best friend's wedding negotiations) and nearly all of the advice you give works in ANY social situation.

    Brilliant stuff.

  3. You forgot one thing. Koreans, their thinking being racially inclinded (not racist per say) treat different races differently. Also, sex makes a difference too (sex as in M and F).

    It would be very different indeed if you are a white guy going to visit prospective Korean in-laws than if you are a Chinese (Northern ancestery) girl doing likewise. With a Northern Chinese or Japanese, at least the kids will look Korean. That makes a difference with most Korean parents.

  4. ALSO;
    you should mention that in most cases, when the eldest son gets married to the girl, the two either move into the son's parents' house, or they get a house of their own, and the son's parents move in. Customary.

  5. Wait wait wait!

    Why are Koreans racists particularly if darker?

    "On top of that, many Koreans are racists, and generally hate everyone who is not Korean – particularly if darker."

    How about if I have slightly brown complexion? -_-;;;

  6. My boyfriend is Korean, and I met his parents about 5 years ago. They were NOT inclined to the idea of their son dating, let alone marrying an Indian girl. However, I was my sweet, polite self, and they have actually mentioned "our" wedding on many occasions. I think if you use common courtesy and are genuinely nice, it makes it better. Plus, being raised in the Indian culture helped some, in that I know the "role" of a woman, even if I am a med student.

  7. Being Korean, and having grown up around Koreans and their in-law situations, I am constantly surprised that ANY Korean parents would want their child to marry a Korean person.

    Any non-Korean girl marrying a Korean (and I mean really Korean) guy should prepare for a life of little control games and massive amounts of passive aggression from the in-laws.

    BTW, I am married to an Irish Catholic American, and she could not have a better relationship with my very conservative parents. She did learn to address them as ABG and OMNI (Korean-Americans should be chuckling right now).

  8. "Koreans are about 70 percent likely to be racist, but 95 percent likely to be sexist."


    My amendment would be 90 percent racist, and 99 percent sexist (at least our parents' generation!) :)

  9. to be honest i son't know anything about koreans other than what i see in those drama's but what you just said makes me think they're a bit scary

  10. If you don't call their parents by their names, what do you call them then?

  11. 어머니 is mother.
    계모 is stepmother.
    시어머니 is mother-in-law.

    아버지 is father.
    새아버지, 의붓아버지, 계부 is stepfather.
    장인[시아버지], 양부 is father-in-law.

  12. Did any of the advice you gave worked? I tried it on my end and all I can say is they are racist.

    I was the first girl that my ex dated he thought about marriage, family, house, kids, kids names and our difference in religion and we (just him and I) thought of how much religion would impact our life and kids. We talked about his family and he told me his family preferred him with Korean but maybe they would support him in the end if he chose non since he never dated a korean girl because he was not attracted to them. My folks didn't care as long as I'm happy. They tried to push their religious views but I buffed them and they respected my opinion and didn't push anymore.
    Once his parents found out about me, his mom started crying....his mom and dad fought on the phone, his sister would tell him I was changing him without his knowledge, then the family meetings and interventions started, to books on Christianity and they would say 'they support him and me together' but the religion was too much. I spent time on our phone chats (we were long distance for 6 months) trying to cool him down form their chats so he could concentrate on his job and exams (something they were not considerate for since these talks were putting his scores and potentially a good job at a good city at risk). The stress of his family ganging up against him and his friends telling him relationships should be easy and if there is no support from the early stages its going to go down hill...he broke it off. He said if we lived in a bubble, we were perfect even with our difference but outside that...we just were too different. I tried to bring to his attention his family did not like me because I'm not korean but he wouldn't see it. They convinced him that it was not the fact of my race, but my religion and my wanting the kids to be the same religion as myself. I told him I would support HIS decision if he wanted to kids to go to bible classes, church, etc b/c I see my friends who do this and it works for them. But he went from knowing what he wanted in religion and kids, to being completely confused to not knowing (in 6 months) and then not ready for marriage and it was too rushed. He is in his 30's...all his friends are married or engaged. His brothers got married in their late 20's, his sister got married in her mid 20's to a guy in his late 20's.
    I feel like I wasted my time and life on him and though I still love him, I hate him and his family....they destroyed every trust I have in him, men, their family, and instincts.

    1. I'm sorry. Although, you are probably better off without him. Forget his family, he was not there to defend you. In the end. many of us are forced to either 'keep the peace' or follow our hearts. Sometimes the easier route is not the one that makes us happy, but it does make our families quieter. Again, I'm truely sorry for your experience. If it means anything, I don't think you could have done anything more and you certainly sounded like you handled yourself with class.

  13. Woah that's a really depressing story. Although not all Korean family's are like that, many older generations can be strict. (And also quite religious) but then again, any extreme Christian family from anywhere in the world can act similarly if their child is wanting to date someone from a different faith. Just one of many reasons I'm an atheist.

  14. Hmmm... I think people are exaggerating here.
    Sure, you can come across the really racist Koreans who absolutely despise the idea of their korean child marrying a non korean. But honestly, to say that 70% of koreans are racist is a gross exaggeration.
    That may have been true in the 1980s or in the stone age, but Koreans nowadays are very very open. I recently went to Seoul, and I stayed with a Korean family. I am chinese, but they seemed intrigued by my culture and didn't seem too bothered if I did not exactly follow korean protocol. Furthermore, my american cousin married a korean man, and she most DEFINITELY did not have to play the role of a "weak, submissive wife." In fact, it was the contrary.

    I urge readers, (and the writer) to not make assumptions that almost all koreans behave this way. In truth, it is very upsetting for me to read this because most of them aren't even true. Yes, you should follow basic protocol like bowing. Thats just respect, it's an asian culture thing. But please, do not generalize korean behaviour.

    That's just weird.

    1. I am speaking as a white male who has studied Korean in depth and lived in Seoul for over 2 years. It is sad to say but most of what people have said here is true. (Yes the younger generation is better than the older generation in these matters. However when it comes down to it Korean is a Homogeneous society. Koreans are very proud of their blood lines and nationality. As a foreigner you will always be seen as just a foreigner. Even if you speak the language. However when you try to break into society you will be at the mercy of one of the most passive aggressive cultures in the world. I am not talking about commuting to your hagwon and ordering gogi at your local restaurant. I am talking about raising a family, working for a Korean company and truly trying to integrate). I am currently dating a girl who was told hold much she was worth in monetary figures by her father. That by being seen with me (even though I am not just another English teacher) brings her worth down. That I would muddle the family blood line. That she is ruined because she loves me and not a Korean man. That is the father. Now the mother on the other hand, who as usual in Korean society has a terrible relationship with her in-laws loves me. I make for an easier family life for her daughter. Her brother is is 28 and one of the most genuine good people I have ever met. So i do take issue with the general personification of Korea being a welcoming place for all. However there are good and bad people everywhere this is true. But good luck fining a Korean girl to marry whose family doesn't bat an eye at you being, black, white, or darker skinned Asian.

  15. I'm European and I'm in a relationship with my Korean boyfriend for a few years now. He still haven't introduced me to his family, so I can't know exactly from personal experience, but.... Korean or not, there is something humane, some common sense as a human being that will make your gestures right. Something that all people in the world know simply because we're all humans.
    Simply, if you care for others, you will naturally not appear as a bad person. And as for the cultural customs, you can always ask your boyfriend / girlfriend. Because they know their own parents a lot better than The Korean does.

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  18. I'm a whitey (girl) who married a Korean guy, though he thinks of himself as mostly Canadian. His parents were very accepting (as he'd never date a Korean girl to begin with) though the language barrier made it a little difficult at first but their english is still good enough to have conversation. Since I took a course in Korean culture at univerisity I've begun to really dive into experiencing it and LOVING it and I've noticed the joy on both his parent's faces when they found out I was trying to learn Korean. I would say no matter how Canadian or non-Korean your Korean love interest claims to be take interest in their culture and their parents are bound to accept you (and your significant other may also begin to realize the importance of their own culture in their own lives as well). It's part of who they are! Plus learning a new language is super cool. Although I still struggle with kimchi, I want to love it so I can be "cool" amongst Koreans haha!

    1. that's awesome! If you don't mind my asking, did you meet in Canada, or in South Korea?

  19. You bow and kiss their feet and say all sorts of shit that has absolutely no meaning. Be sure to smile.

  20. Jesus Christ. You might as well just give yourself up entirely.

  21. I may try some of these with my non korean in laws who hate me, who knows maybe it will work on them too.

  22. LOL I´d rather keep single until I die before I marry a korean and family included,this sounds like a real nightmare. I eat everytime I want when I want, before anyone I want, and kiss anyone I want, in front anyone I want, well I guess they call this freedom, the Korean way is a kind of slavery, giving away your will, not for me.

    1. You're spot on! Korean way of life seems quite inhibited. Slavery is a good word for it!

    2. They also don't like their son/ daughter DATING SOMEONE WITH A KID

  23. let me tell u something im married to a korean guy when i first met his parents he they did not approve of it some of the parents are so mean his grandmother was the only one who approved of it im not trying to be mean or anything but the trick is to find a korean guy that parents have passed away or really nice cause if u like the wrong guy then your life will be messed up forever some of the parents are a B.I.T.C.H


  24. I am an Indian girl interestedin Korean language and culture. I really wish to marry a korean guy. I have got a few Korean friends who are neither racists nor sexists.. but everywhere i see the words Koreans are racists and that scares me out.. why won't they accept someone who really respects and loves their culture and their way of living. i am confused!

    1. Hi nandini why do you want to marry a Korean when there are many kind hearted, Broadminded and cultured. Who respect spouse like a mother and Child. Why cant you give a thought of getting married to a Tamil guy who can make you feel like a queen of the world. Korean or Indian who ever you may marry .... the future depends on wat you give and you will get it back.... All the best for your partner search ...... this is by one of your fan following ---- your dad knows me ..... Bala


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