Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: How is Korea different from Korean dramas?

Dear Korean,

I was born and raised in France, growing up we had a lot of TV shows from the United States, and although they were fictions they somewhat gave me a good idea of how people lived in the United States. The first time I came to the US, I was actually surprised of how "accurate" they were and since I have been living in the US for many years, I still think that these shows were a good introduction to the US way of life.

So the question is: Are Korean Dramas a good introduction to Korean culture?

Celine T.

Of course, it is always a tricky thing to glean a country by the way it is depicted in a TV show. For example, although the Korean has visited the beaches of America many times over, he has never seen this type of thing...

In slow motion, too.
... ever happening. Nope, the lifeguards usually wear shorts and sometimes a shirt. And in case of an emergency, they usually run as fast as they can, not in slow motion.

But all jokes aside, TV shows often do provide a clue about a given country is like, particularly for those who have hardly any idea about that country. If you knew absolutely nothing about Korea, you will know at least something about Korea after having watched a Korean drama, however distorted and out of perspective that knowledge may be. However, the trouble for the Korean is -- he learned about Korea by being born there, and he never watches Korean dramas.

So the Korean will tweak the question a bit, and ask for the readers' input here. Do you watch Korean drama? Have you visited Korea? If your answer is yes to both, how was Korea similar to, or different from, what you observed in Korean dramas? The Korean is really looking forward to the answers for this one.

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


  1. I think the psychy and family problems, work problems, etc of Korean dramas are relatable to Koreans, in general. Interior scenes shot in studios are completely unrealistic.

  2. Hmm... How about "Characters themselves are completely unrealistic, but the social setting in which they live out their unrealistic plots are very accurate."?

  3. like my non-korean friends that visited korea for the first time were shocked how different it was from the dramas. yes you get a feel of how the country looks and is like but their perception of the glamour in the shows were completely distorted when they learned that its not really like that in korea. men in korea are not all rich, good-looking and kind. they wanted the knight in shining armor and thats not what they got. the way i see korean dramas is how koreans would want their lives to be like. its a fantasy and in no way does it really show anything about its reality.

  4. The lifestyle seems somewhat accurate on how it is depicted on the korean shows(in my opinion.) I watch these kdramas almost religiously and when I visit Korea every summer it's like...... I never missed a thing. The TV shows are so up to date that it capitivates recognizable areas, fashion, public spaces, and public/private transportaion. All my friends that plan on visiting korea watch kdramas as a reference. When they come back they love the fact that it's just as they had watched on these shows. I mean, where else can you get ran over in scooters, get McDonald's delivered to your house, walk in dark allies by yourself without having to watch your back, and see girls wearing nothing but heels all day rain or shine? :)

    1. Thanks for your input. I was very curious about their tv shows. Especially with the way they dressed and how they actually wear short shorts with heels. The guys' skin is smooth and shiny. Their hairstyle is amazing. I wondered if this happens in real life like on kdrama tv shows. I would love to visit Korea but since I'm not sure if they're welcoming US citizens to visit there, depending on which location - seoul or gangnam area. I'm creole and will they be friendly with us?


  5. This is AAK not AAJ, but I really learned a lot from watching Japanese dramas. Even if what is presented in a drama is not strictly speaking an accurate portrayal of life in the country, it will inevitably reveal a lot about the values and thoughts of the culture that produced it. In the case of watching Japanese dramas such as Gokusen and GTO, for example, I learned more about such character types as the 不良 (delinquent), and the 熱血教師 (hot blooded-teacher - meaning a teacher who is passionate and engaged with education as a calling). These character types occur frequently in many dramas, mangas, and other products of Japanese popular culture, and reflecting on what they represent about the actual Japan can teach you a lot (such as what education means to Japanese people in genera and what kind of problems are perceived as being endemic in modern schools). Just one example. But yeah, TV can be a great window into a culture. It can especially help you get over the more closed view you might develop from direct experience, where people may be quite strongly altering their behavior simply by the fact that you are there. Observation changes that which is observed! ^^

  6. I was even contacted by a Hollywood screenwriter a few years ago to explain some aspects of Korean culture. At the time, Hollywood was looking to remake Korea's Full House. He had a lot of questions after watching Full House with the subtitles.

    I asked him if they were going to cast any Asians as the main characters to which he replied that at that time Hollywood would never cast an Asian in a lead role.

    I told him part of the popularity of Full House was due to the tiny peek into Korean culture. I also told him that it should not be remade without Asians or an Asian in the leading role. I suggested Rain who was working on his English and better yet, Daniel Henney.

    As far as I know, they did not go ahead with the American version. I'm so glad! I love the Korean Full House.

    1. That is fantastic! I watched Full House and loved the show. I am glad they decided to pick Asian case members to do this show. The cast members did an excellent job and was very pleased to see the result.

    2. I'm a white middle aged American male, and can say nothing would piss me off more than (A) an American version of ANY Korean drama (I mean C'MON being Korean is what makes them so damn special ) and (B) Not casting Asian, if not solely Korean leads would be insulting, I love America, but one of the things that I love most about it, is that its a country of Koreans, Japanese, Mexicans, Irish, Italian, Indian et all and it bugs me that these faces aren't represented more in our films and TV shows. If they did do a Korean remake over here, they should do it like Ang Lee did with crouching tiger hidden dragon, and make it a real Korean Drama not a stupid silly American knock off. Full House was great, and it's unfathomable to think of how much of a watered down train wreck an American version would be, Jesus, if my girlfriend dragged me to some piece of shitake remake starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere I'd hang myself in the theater bathroom 15 minutes in.

    3. My Sassy Girl was remade in America with American actors. IT was ok but it's not a timeless world treasure classic that the Korean version is. Then on the flip side, Overboard was remade in Korea with Korean actors and came out better than the short us version. (couple or trouble 16x1 hour episodes). I think American film has settled into a mold which was not applied in Korea. It is refreshing to see a movie or drama of such quality that it does not have to have profanity, nudity or violence. It's like the f word can be used to substitute ANY word for any reason. american TV is like the f word. Korea still uses the original reactions, feelings, words.. things Americans just have to infer or imagine is reality in a Korean movie/drama. The Korean society takes some "good" but optional characteristics of american society and makes them standard characteristics. There seems to be a bond between Korean family members that is very honorable near unbreakable. This bond even seems to extend beyond the family to the society itself. When the ferry sank the Korean people seemed to act as a family and demand that the govt do better as well as punish those who were careless with people's lives. When the shopping mall collapsed.. the people seemed to rise up again. American's seem to believe the fiction that their govt is truth justice and the american way.. when in reality it's among the greatest criminal govt s on the planet. Koreans seem to water the tree of liberty a bit more than Americans do. I think blue jeans and the Beatles brought down the Berlin wall. I think culture is mightier than the military. I think when it comes to culture America has met it's match in Korea. I think north Korea realizes this, because it's near certain death if your caught watching kdramas there. Myself i love both versions, Korean and american. different expressions of the same thing. It is interesting to me. And is not copying someone the highest expression of complement? Korea i think has learned so much from America. I wish now that we could learn from Korea. I think it' has surpassed us.

  7. Korean dramas show you Korea about the same amount as Friends shows you America.

  8. I never had the luxury of watching Korean dramas before I went to Korea, only internet forums for English teachers.

    Since then I've only caught a few episodes of a series. Maybe I'm coming at this backwards.

    If a person can remember that a drama is first and foremost drama, then watching them can give helpful cultural hints, introduce places (jimjilbang, noraebang, etc) and at the very least help with your listening.

    I don't know how the original writer thought that American life was accurately reflected in American tv shows. I guess if you only hang out with superficial upper-middle class white people?

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  11. The South Korea that is shown in dramas and movies is 100% completely accurate and true-to-life! When I visited Korea for the first time in 2008, I was set up for a blind date with a pretty but bitchy corporate bigwig's daughter, but I turned her down for a poor but virtuous kimbap seller who grew up in an orphanage. Next day, I met my true father (the date was more urgent), who runs a traditional art gallery in Insadong and still wears hanbok every day. I also made friends with a Moroccan-Frenchman who makes a living playing a native-speaker ESL teacher on TV, and narrowly escaped being kidnapped and sold for parts by a vicious gang of bootleg organ-dealers by running down a dark alley alone. But no one bothered me in the dark alley.

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  13. VB, where are you from?

    and LOL @ Sam. The only thing missing is someone with amnesia...

  14. Comment received via email from Brian E.:

    I don't watch a lot of Korean dramas but being really interested in Korean culture after I went to college and lived in Los Angeles, eventually dating a Korean girl for 2 years (from Korea, not Korean American) and visiting Korea several times afterwards, here's a simple list.

    - Koreans drink a lot! The soju and beer 폭탄 is absolutely real! And the drinking ability of your average Korean woman is nothing to sneeze at.
    - The depictions of Korean family life, eating together, going to the 찜질방, singing at the 노래방, are all very real and I think quite spot-on in depicting what Koreans do.
    - Sitting on the floor in random rooms of the house, hanging out and talking.
    - Cleaning the house every day (by which I mean the wiping of the floor etc.)
    - Korean dramas tend to hit up all the tourist sites of Seoul like 광화문, 동대문 or other places that are for the most part just like they show in the dramas.
    - When people hear bad news or otherwise get really stressed (in dramas, fainting), they often really do go to the hospital and get an IV! I've seen this happen and in fact this is just because when people don't feel well in Korea (unlike America with its healthcare system) they feel more comfortable going to the doctor for minor things. And also IVs are a preferred way for getting medicine cause in Korea's 빨리 빨리 culture, it's much faster and more direct. Even for just getting some vitamin C.
    - Depictions of college life, at least the part-time work and generally what the campuses look like, are pretty accurate. Of course no one ever really does work or studies in a drama.
    - Chinese shops in Korea really deliver food in those metal containers and leave you the bowls and stuff, after you're done, you leave it and they pick it up. Astounding.

    - Most people I met and know in Korea are not 재볼 scions dating spunky girls who made their way up through poverty. But maybe I hang with the wrong crowd. Most are well-educated white-collar people with interest in a lot of things but not very dramatic backgrounds.
    - Like Hollywood, people in Korean dramas live in either ridiculous luxury apartments or houses and even if they're a struggling writer live in a part of town that everyone would envy.
    - People working in small clothing shops trying to become fashion designers don't tend to be Korean pop-stars or look anything like that. The pop-star casting as well as recycling of the same 5 or 6 moms and dads cast in every drama make you mistakenly believe that everyone in Korea looks the same, because in every drama it's the same people give or take the young leads.
    - Clubbing scenes in Korean dramas are always really fake with lots of dressed up girls who are dancing by themselves limply. At least in Korea, in a real club there'd be more guys.
    - See above in similarities. No one ever does work or studies in a drama except in a quick montage. As for real Korea, I've never seen people work or study harder. In fact Korea would be an amazing place to live if you didn't have to work or study there. That's my opinion.

    Of interest:
    My ex-girlfriend's parents had the TV on from 8am to 12am and I was shocked that at any time of day on some TV station in Korea, a drama is playing. And no matter whether it's a family drama, an action drama, a teen drama, one thing was universal, someone was bawling their eyes out on that drama. The amount of crying, screaming, yelling I heard on TV all throughout the day was quite shocking. And my ex and her parents didn't react to it as anything abnormal. I didn't think anyone listening to all that emoting could somehow not be affected by it. When I brought that up my ex reminded me that in America we're similarly unresponsive to TV and movie violence with gunshot, stab wounds, decapitations on South Park, laughing at disembowelings on Family Guy (I have to admit it's true). To each their own!

    1. I am desperately curious regarding few stereotypes from doramas, if they are true:
      1. Is the relationships between a man and a woman really that virginic and innocent before marriage? Do they only dare holding hands and kissing a girls forehead at the age of 35?? :)
      2. Do reach families really force their children marry who they want them to marry in business purposes and otherwise curse them?
      Do people really go to bed in jackets and winter coats? :))
      Really want to get answers to these...

    2. I grew up in Daegu and moved to Seoul around when I was 12. To answer your question:
      1. Most koreans are not virginic and innocent before marriage like they are in dramas. Western influence and public displays of affection exploded around 2000.
      Korea still holds true to the stranger phobia where they will not interact socially with anyone outside their circle (employment, school, family, friends or clubs) unless that circle introduced them.
      Young couples are constantly kissing in subways, holding hands, cuddling etc. There are a lot of single people in korea .. not because they are virtuous but because they just dont have the time to date or cant find someone to be steady with. There is a lot of one night stands, weekend lovers, and run-of-the-old-mill people that use/abuse and run for the hills. This causes a lot of Koreans to remain single. Before there is this conception that if you turn 30 and not married then you are essentially a spinster and updatable. This slowly vanishing but meanwhile it is still pretty engrained in a lot of Korean girls minds so they put a lot of emphasis in dating and marrying before 30. Which can lead to compromising arraignments that usually turn out bad. My friends do not represent korea as a whole but most of them started having sex around 16.
      To sum it all up … If Koreans all wore red shirts to show that they are not virgins you would think that the world cup is about to start the Korean football team.

      2. Koreans don’t do arraigned marriages but they do organize or arrange dating or meetings. Actually this applied to all Koreans generally, less for the poor and more so for the rich.
      For the cheabols (like crown prince of a rich business) and the financially elite Koreans .. they do organize more to get their kids dating other rich people. It is just the “stranger phobia” I mentioned above but on steroids. The rich have a more exclusive circle so they tend to date each other or know each other. Very rarely does a poor class Korean have the opportunity or the reason to be introduced or befriend that circle. So is there arraigned marriage … no but there is a huge chance that two rich kids that are arraigned to meet will probably date regardless if they family sets it up.

  15. I wonder if many people will agree with me on this, but I personally prefer sitcoms or comedy dramas for this purpose (this goes for looking into any country's culture, doesn't have to be Korea).

    In most cases, I find the characters in the aforementioned genres to be more down-to-earth, average person that many people can relate with.

    Of course, in comedy, the situations the characters find themselves in can get very absurd, but in some ways, you can see which aspects of a culture the show is trying to make fun of and how they would drive the characters to do very funny/absurd things. As a bonus, you also get to learn what types of humour work for a specific culture, which could perhaps come in handy when you interact with a member of that culture.

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  18. vb, have you seen the Toyota commercial with Lee MinHo? If not, you must check it out -- it's not only hilarious, it's a spot-on spoof of K-dramas.

  19. I have not made it to Korea yet, it's on my must-do list for 2012.
    In that sense, I am a fan of Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese dramas. And I will have to say some things are the same, and very very different.

    Tokyo: I think the people you see in dramas and how they interact with others is very similar to what you see in dramas as well as anime. However, over-the-top personalities you see in the dramas don't exist. Never had I seen a more orderly, organized and polite society. People were patient with us and were helpful when we staggered along looking lost.

    Taiwan: Night and day compared to what you would see in dramas. The years of Mandarin I learned in college and afterward were pretty useless outside of Taipei. Everywhere else I was met with blank stares if I didn't know Taiwanese. We were with family, so the getting around part wasn't difficult, but the family spoke no English, so that was rather amusing. While Tokyo was clean and orderly and organized, Taiwan was gritty and earthy. Scooters were EVERYWHERE. Taiwanese are also very civilized, polite and worldly. While I went to parts of Taiwan not many "white folks" venture, I wasn't stared at or treated much differently (but that may have been because I was with my inlaws). While we were there LOTS AND LOTS of mainland Chinese tourists were everywhere. You could tell it was the first time many had left their country. Interesting, but annoying. I got pushed around a lot in crowds.

    Walking around both places I stuck out like a sore thumb (husband fit in just fine, however) and being an only white face in a sea of Asians was rather fun. In fact, I would be surprised to see people of other races and cultures. We would probably do what the locals did, and whenever I saw someone "like me" I'd point, nudge husband and go: "look, a foreigner!" ;)

    But you can't judge all on a culture just on what you see on television and listen to music. Going places I had the impression everyone was very well dressed, but really, people in other countries are like everyone else. They just speak a different language.

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  22. One other TV source to learn about Korean culture is the variety show "1 Night, 2 Days.” The premise is that the members go on trips throughout Korea and along the way play games to win small rewards. Most of the behaviors are spontaneous. On a recent show they had Koreans for age 1 to 100 plus a bonus person at 102 years old. You could see the roll that age plays in daily life. Other shows show the Korean’s fascination with food. I think I learned more about Korea watching just a few episodes of “1 Night, 2 Days” than I did watching 5 or 6 Kdramas,

  23. Korean wife says:

    "There's always really rich people like CEOs and poor people falling in love, but in Korea it's impossible. Rich people meet rich people. And in dramas rich people are handsome and really kind. But in real Korea they're not that handsome and normal people cannot meet them. How can they fall in love with each other? Big company's daughter always marries big company's son. And in dramas they always get cancer, too. Also they always speak Seoulmal. And even if they're poor they dress really nicely. How can poor people wear nice clothes? Right? And even if they take a shower they still put on makeup. When they go to bed they still put on makeup."

    I never watch Kdramas, but I live in Korea, and whenever I catch them on TV I always notice the contrast between the dark, gritty, trash-strewn, run-down Korea around me, where everyone is exhausted, angry, dark-skinned, and old---and the magical Korea on TV where milk-pale people with enormous, extraterrestrial-like eyes sit at tables (rather than on the floor, which I believe is very common even among the affluent) and live in beautiful traditional neo-yangban homes with open-air courtyards. Courtyards. Sweater vests for old men, ridiculous suspenders for the young, decent nose jobs and facial surgery for every woman. People spend a lot of time walking around in parks. I'm not exactly sure where anyone of these parks really are.

    But one thing that's spot-on in these dramas is that Korean men and women are, to generalize, extraordinarily awkward together. Several Koreans have told me that they believe it is impossible for men and women to be friends, and this is definitely reflected on television or in reality, where men and women will practically fight to the death to avoid looking each other in the eye.

    (sorry I seem so negative---I love your blog, TK :)

    1. Didn't think you were negative at all. I appreciate the honesty. I watch gzillions of K-Dramas a year, its nice to hear from a real Korean! Thank you for posting.

  24. Real life in Korea doesn't suck. Also the rates of terminal illness and car accidents are much lower (though the latter is still elevated).

  25. The difference between dramas and real life are these....

    1. Men are not always going to act like knights in shining armor and automatically know what women want all the time, nor will they remain loyal to women who are straight up bitches.

    2. Not all women are out to get each other's men.

    3. Some women get along perfectly fine with their mothers in law.

    4. Most people can't really afford to live in housing like that.

  26. Major difference between real Korean and what I have seen in Korean dramas--not as many men on horses with swords.

  27. I'd really love to know which shows you were watching in France that exactly depicted American life. You have to have watched a show that matched the setting that you ended up in. America is a *huuuuge* country, and the vast majority of us live our lives nothing like the people on TV. TV and movies generally show the extremes. There is not one person in my family that can knock back martinis in Manhattan on a regular basis...and neither do we spend every day after school fixing the barn on a prairie.

    Likewise, what I've seen of Korean TV and movies hardly resembles the *typical* Korean lifestyle that I've witnessed in the last 2 years living there in a major metropolitan city, no less. You've also got to consider the differences between someone working in an investment firm in Seoul and a farmer in the country.

    I dunno...I just get irked when people generalize to the point of completely losing credibility. Not to say that the intent of the question is negative at all.

    1. good point ! I was wondering the same thing .... what shows were they watching???? LOL !

  28. hahah one is a television show and one is regular life. The french guy is wrong American TV is nothing like how it is here. You might say differently if your only sense of American lifestyle is one of a college student or a wealthy visitor. Sorry but not one aspect of daily television in America is like my life. As for Korea I never really watch Korean Dramas because I am not as into fads as most Asian women. As for what I found Korea to be like when I was there it was pretty much divided into the youth and the older folks.

  29. If you leave out the characters and the plot you pretty much get what Korea is about. I mean.. really... who is stupid enough to think that all such people actually exist? these are devices for story-telling. what is important, is to see the things aound it. I learned a lot about Korea when watching dramas: the language, the humour, the customs..oh, and let's not forget about the food culture! - they all tell loads about a nation - and which is why I like Korea (not the chaebols and cinderella stories). and let's face it: the korean drama itself is largely a great part of a Korean's life?

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  34. I've never been to Korean. In fact, I've studied japanese for a good 2 years now and always wanted to go there... until the world of Korean dramas came to my knowledge. Now, I'm dying to go to korean, I've been to as many korean restaurants as I can think of, I know how to recognize korean actors and actresses (although I don't have a clue about the ones in my own country) and I even started looking into something korean language related.

    Weird, hun?

  35. After reading the comments, I started to think about something. I'm brazilian, I've lived in the US for 3 years and last year I moved to Argentina to go to school. I really hate tv. I mean, I don't even own one, I much rather download everything I need to watch. Brazilian dramas are, in my opinion, the worst thing ever invented. The characters are terrible, always the same actors, same places, same screenplay... no creativity. Argentinian's shows aren't any better. I haven't actually seen a full one (because, again, I don't own a tv), but from what I've seen, they're just as terrible as the brazilian ones.

    So, I have some korean friends and every time I bring up some drama I'm watching they always say they've heard of it but they never watch it. Ever. They say the same thing "The Korean" posted on his comments: they're full of drama, crying exaggerating etc etc.

    And I wonder... why is that the so many foreigners like korean shows?

    I don't know why either... I just got to know so much about Korea (whether is all true or not) and that actually really got me interested to look more into it - its people, language, culture, habits, food etc. Visiting Korea has never occurred to me before, and now I'm all up for it.

    ps. And no, I'm not going hoping that some rich handsome guy is gonna bump into me on the streets, then we're gonna keep bumping into each other several times until we fall in love.

  36. If New Zealand was anything like NZ dramas I would hate to come here!

    Korean dramas are good, but only old ones were they had real men who didnt wear makeup and have plastic surgery etc, and men were men not the other way...

    If you watch Korean dramas you will definitely want to go there. Well I think its better to visit korea first and then watch korean dramas. You can say Hey I've been there! Also don't take them too seriously... People in Korea are not as kind and righteous as displayed on dramas...

  37. Will think about this a bit more before I write useless stuff. But for now I can add up this:
    - First time in Korea (2010) I was super surprised how many men I found handsome. There were a lot of attractive guys around me. (Interesting enough: Somehow the western type had lost the ability to look attractive to me.) Don't ask me why, I don't know.
    - work / work load in Korea is nothing to laugh at. It was really hard to keep up. Could totally feel the stress of the drama people.
    - I was super lucky on my first day when two Korean handsome guys helped me with my trunk, without even asking. They must have seen that I had a hard time. - Things you see in dramas often. BUT actually the opposite is more common. Seoul, the super big city, is normally not different from any big city. Too many people -> the people don't know each other -> will be indifferent mostly -> not helping out.
    - Heard that from a friend: You are a woman with talent and knowledge but not beautiful? Whatever you do, you won't come far in Korea. Beauty is a must and if you don't have that, unfortunately you will have a harder life than Ms.-Beautiful-but-no-brain.
    - Same for men who aren't rich! If you are not rich, you will not find a girlfriend. If you have one, be careful - just to stand in a better spotlight than the friend, she'll leave you (even if she actually loves you) and find a better boyfriend.
    - sadly, parents always compare their kids to other kids. Makes live hard, so be careful who you make your friend.
    - real friendship in Korea is hard to find and to maintain. Most "favors" just work on give-and-take basis.
    - Arranged marriage? Often this is the follow up scenario: Couple live in the same house, share the same bed and all, have kids - but both live their individual life. So not with each other but next to each other. Woman takes care of house, kids and their education, father works like crazy in -wherever-. Time for the couple? Almost none - so love/affection (if existent may) die(s). Side effect: Middle aged Ajussi keeps 25year girls company a lot / too much. next step: Divorce !?!?!? (So no wonder Korea is at podiums spot regarding the number of divorces).
    --> Ok that was quite hard, but hey, there are exceptions!!! I was lucky enough to find my way in a super nice Korean family with a super great relationship between all family members.

    So, so much for my first thoughts.

    Oh yeah, one more:
    - Definitely true: Interracial dating: Wherever you go with you boyfriend - even in big city Seoul - you will be starred at (subway, park, restaurant... doesn't matter).

  38. This question was a while ago, but I'm going to pipe in. I am a white American and I just discovered Korean Dramas. I think they are a total blast. The way I see it, is you can't really go by the details of a show to understand the culture. It would be like thinking all New Yorkers were like the folks on Friends - making little money, but still managing to live the way they do. What I have noticed is that there is a similar thread that winds through most cultures - especially when it comes to romance. Kind of like there is a Cinderella story in almost every culture. Also humor - most every culture seems to enjoy slapstick - when it is done well. Similar things tend to tickle our funny bone, make us teary eyed (even when we know its sappy) and we love our mamas. I do hope that people don't get s**t faced as much in reality in Korea. American shows don't tend to have so many people sitting on the toilet, and almost never beautiful women, as Korean shows do. Adam Sandler should take lessons on how to make bathroom humor actually really funny. We (Americans) tend to become 7 year old boys when we try to do bathroom humor. Also the dramas use a great format - there is a beginning, middle and end. Boy meets girl, hates girl, loves girl, or she has some horrible disease, loses girl, gets girl back...all in 16 -20 episodes. although like a lot of American shows everyone seems to be living - unrealistically - rather high on the hog.
    I have also learned to love a lot of Korean movies now. As an American, I'll be honest, I sort of lumped Asian films together in the Action category ... boy was I wrong and stupid. Cast Aways on the Moon is a great example. I think that may end up being one of my favorite movies along with Barking Dogs Dont BIte and Going by the Book. Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Most people just want to be entertained for a while, life can be rough, painful and messy, so we escape to a place where things get solved. And yes I think we do learn about a culture by watching their shows..we learn how we are more similar than not.
    Oh and as for Korean men and make up - my dad was the one who taught me how to put on make-up, he carried around a powder compact for his man. But it is kind of odd when you see a guy wearing almost fuschia pink lipstick. That just don't look good on anyone.

  39. I am American, and I don't watch American TV for more reasons than I can name. But, I do watch Asian (mostly Korean) dramas and movies. My husband and I lived in Seoul for two years during the mid 70s. Though I never, ever watched American soaps (they are like dramas in many ways), I do watch Korean equivalents. I am very interested in how Korea has changed since those years, and I pick up many clues through the dramas. For instance, the buses have changed drastically. When I rode the buses it was standing room only. They would only slow down when they came to the bus-stop, and a bus-girl would hang off of a rail on one side of the door scooping up the people that were getting on with her other arm. She would then reach around them (many at a time), grab the rail on the other side, and use her body to press everyone into the bus. Body contact was a given, because it was a sardine can. You had better start making your way to the door before your stop came up, and have your money ready to hand her as she shoved you off.

    All of these things weren't true of every bus trip, but if you weren't prepared for this you could be in for a real shock. Some of my most vivid memories are bus trips.

    I have learned a lot about foods and table manners from dramas,and also about the popularity of learning and using English. When we lived in Seoul, we could walk down the street, and say anything we wanted, as long as, in English and feel safe that no one understood. After watching historical dramas I am always motivated to do a search to find out how much of it was true, which always fascinates me. I have also learned a lot about the dress and customs of the three kingdoms at different points in history. The battles also fascinate me. I have loved learning about Korean history, and learned so much more than I learned by visiting the palaces, and historical village.

    I know it to be true that Koreans are very emotional people, especially when it comes to their pride. I witnessed public yelling, crying, and fighting. And, it was next to impossible to take a taxi home, since the road was only wide enough in most spots for one car to pass, because when two drivers meet neither will yield. It was easier to walk than to listen to them kae saeki back and forth. I treasure the time I was there, and get to see all the changes in the dramas.

  40. Just stumbled across this today! I was curious whether Koreans are actually as "violent" as they are in dramas? Nothing serious, of course, but the parents in dramas seem to hit their kids really often... and sometimes the girls hit the guys several times if they're annoyed or something. Does that happen in real life? I haven't seen any of my Korean friends do that to each other (neither in the Philippines nor in North America).

  41. living in the u.s. i knew koreans could drink. but in dramas, they're always passing out and this seems totally normal. whereas if you did that in the u.s., your friends would have an intervention. but i guess that is a real thing (blackoutkorean). some other things i am curious about: is it socially acceptable for bosses to yell and hit their employees? do people really have their first kiss in their mid 20s? do women actually enjoy their boyfriends grabbing their wrist and generally jerking them around violently? do roommates really share a bed? no matter, how broke people are in the U.S., they wouldn't resort to sharing a bed. someone takes the couch instead.

    not to generalize, but being chinese i would surmise that koreans like chinese hate leaving voicemail messages. in korean soaps, when people don't answer their cell phone there is no voicemail! it just says the owner is not answering!

  42. What I love about Korean dramas, that are set in a contemporary setting, is that all their deeply personal and private problems are discussed in a public coffee shop. They always order coffee, but they never drink it. They just sit across from each other, taking ten minutes to get to the point, which ultimately ends in "Back off bitch, don't try and steal my man!" or "I'm gonna steal your man, bitch!". =P

  43. Ah...I just sent you an email about Korean dramas haha...I haven't been to Korea, but I do love the dramas. I think there are things you can definitely learn about the culture, but some things need to be taken as exaggeration for humor or romantic sakes. It's just like when people who are not American have an IDEA of what it's like here, but there are some things that are simply not true (I remember reading an article where a boy from India thought all Americans owned guns. I do not own a gun, nor have I even shot one). Same thing with Korean dramas.

    The crazy Korean woman (seriously I watch some of these dramas, especially the main female leads sometimes, and one would think ALL Korean women are insane, yell a lot, and throw lots of things...and don't even get me started on the backstabbing).

    Finding a young, hot, rich guy. would think it would be SUPER easy to find a hot, young, rich guy who is fresh out of college and works as one of the top executives at a company.

    Drinking at those roadside places? What are those even called? They go, eat, and drink themselves silly and stumble home drunk. Maybe..MAYBE it would be more normal to see MEN doing this. But is it really acceptable if a woman is seen exhibiting this behavior? Even in the States, public drunkeness isn't exactly considered acceptable.

    Best use for dramas:
    Knowing the CONTEXT in which to use certain words/phrases. Learning the language and how to address people is the biggest benefit. You learn the difference between "사랑해" and "좋아해요" It's like in Japanese, the difference between "aishiteru" and "suki" One is infinitely more intimate than the other, but I don't think you can really understand that unless you can see it in context. Dramas are a great way to do that.

    You can kind of become familiar, with some "themes" that may be important to the culture as a whole. The "rags to riches" story I've noticed is incredibly popular. I think you can get a general feel for society values and norms though dramas, and even how its values change. Again, looking at American TV, we went from the flamboyant gay guy wearing a tight shirt and pants, to a gay guy that is completely just like a straight guy except for his sexual preference.


    I have a question about these dramas though...why...WHY do they ALWAYS take out the cell phone battery? Why not just turn it off?! This drives me absolutely INSANE.

    1. ..About the last question, try it by your own and you'll see the operator say "the contact not reachable at the moment" instead of "the contact has turned off the phone".

  44. Currently I am living in US but I am from Mongolia. I don't know if you guys know where is Mongolia located. Anyway, I have a lot of Korean friends here. Most of them are outgoing and for some reason they don't like hanging out with Korean people. In your face they seem nice friendly but they talk bad behind you. I don't like some Korean guys, they are just too annoying. Few times I hangout with some Koreans, I can't talk Korean but I figure what they are talking just listening some word. They use so many bad words. Personally I don't like Korean guys at all. Most Korean girls like money so if you have girlfriend you should buy them nice stuff. But I mean I like Korean girls.

  45. ALL Korean husbands cheat on their wives.

  46. I just stumbled upon this blog because of the insane article about the SK president, and I couldn't help but share my thoughts even if it's years late 😜...
    I haven't been to Korea, but I have friends who have been, and I have met several Koreans, who came to the Philippines to study English, within the course of almost 2 decades, starting in the late 90's when I was still in highschool and were classmates with 2 Korean exchange students. I've also been regularly watching Kdramas since 2001 (thanks to All About Eve, Autumn in my Heart et al) so I guess, like Celine T. I was able to pick up some ideas on how South Korean culture might be like. but with the help of the friends and interactions with actual Koreans (as well as decades of avid but critical TV watching), I'm fortunately able to discern most of the cultural nuances they depict on shows--which ones were exagerrated for entertainment value, or which could be taken at face value.
    I've also observed the gradual change of the production quality--the common tropes plague mostly daytime dramas but primetime ones tend to be more daring/original especially during the past few years. slice of life type of dramas seem to be more popular nowadays, and as what this genre type suggests, it's the closest depiction of how Korean lifestyle is like (well, it still depends on the theme). of course, the attractive set of actors don't represent the general population, but you get the drift.
    I think if you're learning the language, it's good to start with kids' shows, because sageuk(historical dramas) and makjang (the infamous over-the-top dramas) would definitely teach you little as they're meant to be unrealistic. if you want to learn more about the Korean culture, I suggest watching more documentaries and perhaps lifestyle shows, even varieties like Running Man. slice-of-life dramas may be more 'organic' than other shows, but they're still fictional, so you still have to keep an open but critical mind when appreciating Korean culture through them.


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