Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Do North Koreans Look Different from South Koreans?

Dear Korean,

Do North Koreans look different from South Koreans?

Ms. Trophy Wife


Short answer: not really.

One thing to remember about North and South Koreas is that they were the same country for a couple of millennia before having split into two countries for the last 60-odd years. So whatever differences that North and South Korea have in terms of language, customs, etc., tend to be minor. For example, the difference in the languages used in both North Korea and South Korea do not amount to more than differences in accent and certain diction, somewhat like the American and Australian English.

Likewise, there is no fundamental difference between the way in which North and South Koreans look. Having said that, however, 60-plus years is not a short amount of time, and the two Koreas did live through two very different worlds. South Koreans now live in one of the world's wealthiest countries, North Koreans one of the poorest. In particular, the crushing famine that North Korea suffered in the mid-1990s has left a visible impact on North Korean people's physique. While the average height of adult South Korean men is 171.5 cm (~5' 7.5"), the average height of adult North Korean men is 165.4 cm (~5' 5"). Because North Korean youths have become so malnourished, North Korea had to lower the minimum height requirement for its soldiers from 140 cm (~4' 7") to 137 cm (~4' 6") in 2010. (In contrast, South Korea recently had to extend the maximum height requirement from 196 cm (~6' 5") to 204 cm (~6' 8") for its conscripts.)

Aside from the difference in physique, the difference in the looks between North and South Koreans is essentially the difference in the wealth available to decorate oneself with fashionable clothing, cosmetics, hair care and (sometimes) plastic surgery. When given the chance to catch up to those additional "boosts," North Koreans--such as these defector ladies from a popular South Korean TV show about North Korean life--look like they will fit right in the streets of Seoul.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. When talking about look-alikes, it is astonishing (well, not really) how Mongolians look exactly like Koreans for the most part.

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    1. I've been to both countries and this didn't occur to me - at all. They seem very different to me physically, and and it was more striking than between Korean and Japanese.

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  2. [South] Koreans are reaching heights of 6' 8"?? Not to sound ignorant or stereotypical but I find that that's pretty incredible! I've don't think I've met a Korean taller than 5' 8"... the new maximum height is whole foot taller!

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    1. pheeeew....
      Koreans ARE tall, don't underestimate them. ^_-

      Well, maybe a bit shorter in average compared to the folks down there in the Mediterrainean Europe (although we're very various down there too), but they're far from being short. And if I, a 178cm tall European girl living in Seoul tell you that, then you can trust me when I say someone's tall.

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    2. My cousins in Korea are both at least 15cm taller than me (at 169cm). I look up to them in a very literal sense. I don't know how it happened since both their parents are shorter than me. I can only think that it's improved nutrition and food availability between generations in Korea.

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    3. Haha. I mean I guess there are always exceptions to the norm anywhere you are in the world but it looks like the new norm is changing for Asians as far as height goes. I think diet, nutrition, and lifestyles probably have something to do with it

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    4. aren't they the tallest in asia? I'm not all that surprised, a healthy life style does wonders

      http://www.interbasket.net/news/4385/2009/09/average-height-by-country-males-20-years/
      (this is not a recent report though)

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  3. The main question is: What would happen after a reunification? I think the communist dictatorship distorted Korean traditions in the North. Okay, I admit, I'm not an expert when it comes to North Korea, but this was the same with Germany. Before the reunification, Germans were met in Hungary(actually, it was their only chance to meet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-European_Picnic).

    And they were so different. Different attitude, different way of thinking, different everything. Even today, the people in the western region of Germany look down on "Ossies", they have degrading slangs for them etc... And this is Germany, were the difference between the West and the East was literally NOTHING compared to the difference between North and South Korea.
    I wonder how the South Koreans would react and treat the people from the North after a reunification. By now, it would be very hard to consider the two as ONE nation. Ok, I know, it would be better for North Koreans, but still....

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    1. As a Korean I think we're not that different. When I watch North Korean broadcast from Internet or news, I can understand what they are saying. Of course they use a bit of different vocabularies.....but, I think that much variation can happen anywhere within Southkorea itself. If we ever get united one of us should give up our political thought. Koreans have lived in korean peninsula for more than 5000yrs(that's what I learned at school). So basically we have similar tradition, same history(before we got seperated). What i;m saying is that I really don't think South and North korea are that much different. It's just that we're worried about economic difference. If South Koreans are the one to be accepting North Koreans, we'll have to educate, feed, and give them all sorts of help to be part of us. And for a long time there will be discrimination against North Koreans because they've been under dictatorship and don't know much about anything. And older generations have been eduacated that we were divided because of N.Korea and anything related to N.korea is bad. But now S.Koreans learn that is was a war between ideology. I don't know....I just entered college and I haven't give much thought about such things. What i've written so far could be just 'my opinion'. We don't talk about these stuff at class. It not taboo but we just don't care. What we know is that reunification is not going to happen in the near future. I have so much to say about all sorts of things but right now I've gotta run. I have a class in 5 minute.

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    2. The Germans thought the same. If you live in another country, your behavior, attitude significantly changes. Probably even the author of this blog, the Korean himself changed in a lot of ways, since he is American now. And what is common in North and South Korea? Nothing, except the language.
      Look, in Europe we've been through this. Germany were divided for ~40 years, and in East Germany, even those, who were born AFTER the reunification, suffer discrimination from "Wessies".
      Korea is divided for nearly 70 years now. The difference between the two Korea is more than brutal.

      "It not taboo but we just don't care."

      Sad to hear that :(

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    3. If you take two people of the same culture and put one in a communist society and one in a (more or less) democratic one, they will turn into completely different people.

      Communist society really makes people act in selfish, undignified ways because they feel their status will remain the same regardless of how they act. It's both a sense of entitlement and a feeling of helplessness at the same time.

      China (PRC) and Taiwan (ROC) were the same country until 65 years ago. But they have had different governments since then. People in China don't care about each other because (1) they feel its the government's job to look after everyone and (2) showing kindness toward others won't get them ahead in their country. Taiwan, on the other hand, has some of the kindest people I've ever met. They have a real sense of community in Taiwan that is not found anywhere in the PRC.

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    4. That only tells you that only the name is "communist", while the actual system is not. Because in communism they promote solidarity.

      I am not defending political ideas now, personally my opinions about politics don't match either the fake "communist" dictatorship neither the sweet "democratic" lie, I'm just giving facts.
      And btw, I was born in the very last year of the "communist Yugoslavia", the 1989. I might have missed the communist era, but I'm hearing stories first hand from people who do remember. It didn't seem to be such a selfish society, seems more selfish nowadays when we got "democracy".

      The point here is that it's not the political regime that makes a selfish society, it's the fear of getting involved, which is a much more complex subject.

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  4. To me personally S.Koreans and N.Koreans look a bit different. North Koreans are not only shorter, but they look more malnourished (bad teeth, need braces), although their faces appear wider especially when it comes to wide cheeks. I attribute it to eating less sugar during pregnancy and less processed foods.

    Their figures are different - N. Koreans appear more natural, somewhat chubby, whether South Koreans appear slender and they have a better statue overall. Unfortunately, S.Korean faces are becoming very narrow, and not because of plastic surgery. I bet expectant mothers and growing up children consume more processed foods (Chocoboy, Chocopie, etc.) now compared to what it was even five years ago. In most Korean dramas they now consume unlimited ice-cream, cakes and even bread (pan)! Almost every Korean drama advertises fried chicken. This was unheard of just three years ago.

    I hope Koreans STOP EATING all that crappy junk food and go back to preparing their traditional food the way their ancestors did it. They are still the slimmest nation on earth, but it is not going to last if they keep eating all that fried chicken and snacks.

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    1. A fast lifestyle leads to fast eating habits.

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  5. "So whatever differences that North and South Korea have in terms of language, customs, etc., tend to be minor."

    I don't think 'minor' accurately characterizes the language differences. Even after living in the South for several months or more, defectors often mention the great difficulty they have understanding South Koreans because of all the loan words they use.

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    1. Sounds to me they're having the same difficulty that the elderly and the youth experience in understanding each other. Linguistically, I mean, not in terms of conflict of age gap.

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