Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yellow Fever Sold Here

Dear Korean,

I'm a non-Korean woman who has been involved with a Korean man for quite a few years. Due to financial burdens suffered by his family, my beau will be living with his parents until he has helped them pay off their house. While his father has taken no issue with my ethnicity (and even seems rather enthusiastic about me), his mother refuses to acknowledge me. I'm unceasingly polite to her. I smile and bow and greet her with a single-semester's worth of Korean vocabulary whenever I pick her son up for a date, but alas, she sours at the sight of me. So my question is simple- what does a girl have to do to get a smile from an ajumma?


Whitey Mcflighty

Dear Yellow Fever,

It's not just any ajumma (a lovely Korean word signifying generic middle-aged women; calling a young lady this is a good way to get your face slapped) you're talking about: it's a possible in-law. I don't care what you think about the marriage prospect of your beau, who must be an exceedingly handsome man as all Korean men are. Any woman who befriends her son is a son-thief in the eyes of a Korean mother, who will protect her son like Homer Simpson protects his last donut.

In fact, the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law conflict is so prevalent in Korea that Koreans have one word to describe it. (Pronounce it if you can, Whitey: Go-bu-gal-deung. Don't say it to your ajumma though. It would only piss her off more.) Historically, Korean sons live with their parents and bring the wives in. The wives naturally piss off their mothers-in-law because (1) they take away the attention of the sons and (2) being new to the kitchen, they make lousy cooks/servants.

Korean Americans make things more complicated because usually the first generation sacrificed everything (seriously) to make something out of their spawn, I mean sons. (Daughters too, to some extent, but they don't count as much.) The sons are the crown jewel of the family and they're not going to just anyone, especially not to some pasty hussy who looks like she will trip over herself trying to do jeol (a deep bow, on your knees.)

So are you doomed? Kinda. But take comfort in the fact that there are extremely few girlfriends/wives of Korean men who don't piss off their boyfriend's mother/mother-in-law. If you can handle it, try to be a good Korean woman and help your beau's mother out in the kitchen. Show your willingness to be a beast of burden. Try to include yourself in the family functions if at all possible. But again, no guarantees. The Korean Mother did all that and it only took her about 10 years before the Korean Grandmother was no longer mean to her. Took another 10 years for her to be nice. Brace yourself.

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


  1. Wow, the Korean customs are a bit similar to my people's customs, except we don't really have the problem with possessive mothers, which you have everywhere, not just Korea, but it's probably more dominant there. ^_~

    Wow, 20 years for your mother, huh? Such a short time period. xD Good thing your grandmother finally accepted her; I think your parents' children helped in that matter. ^_~

    Best wishes to all the women who have to deal with [future] mother-in-laws.

    This the second time I've read something about "yellow fever" (the first from here I don't think I feel insult; it's rather more intriguing to find out there's a term and a whole concept for it. xD

  2. least the Korean grandmother came around after 20 years. My own Korean mother has been waiting for 33 years.


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