Every culture has them, I suppose; numbers that are considered unlucky because of superstitions. In the U.S., the number 13 is considered unlucky.
Well, in Korea the unlucky number is 4. (Knowing this won me a kimchi noodle bowl at a Korean presentation at the library. 🙂 )
Four has been deemed unlucky in Korea because it sounds like the Chinese word for “death.” (This refers to four in Sino-Korean numbers, which is 사 and is pronounced “sah.”) Four is also considered unlucky in China and Japan as well.
So why should you know this? Well, it will help you understand why certain buildings in Korea don’t have a “fourth” floor. And it might be best to avoid groupings of things in fours, like when you’re giving gifts. Not to mention it might win you something in trivia someday.
Did you know that the only polite way to give or receive anything in Korea–be it change from a purchase or a gift–is to use both hands?
Our first Korean teacher taught us this, and made us practice with an older Korean gentleman who worked at the school. The most common way is to put out both hands, palms up. But you can also put out one hand, if and only if, you place your other hand either under your elbow or on the fold of your arm. Again this technique is used across the board. If you’re making a purchase, you would hand over your money to the clerk in one of the fashions mentioned above. Or if you are giving a gift to someone, you would hold the gift in the same manner.
In this video, Simon and Martina of EatYourKimchi.com go over a couple of gestures that if done North American style can be rude or insulting to Koreans. Giving and receiving items is one of they go over. Check it out. www.eatyourkimchi.com/how-to-use-korean-hand-gestures/
So I’ve decided to add a category for cultural tidbits that don’t need much explanation. Today’s Did You Know…? is one I found out about only after I goofed on our son’s first birthday cake. Here it is.
Did you know that it’s taboo in Korea to write someone’s name in red ink?
Some of you are probably thinking, “But red is the color ink that comes with a name chop so it can’t be taboo.” Well, both are true. Red ink is the color most used with a 도장 (dojang, name chop).
But when writing with ink, one should never write someone’s name in red since the color is associated with death and red ink is used to record a deceased person’s name in the family register.
So I learned this on the day of our son’s first birthday celebration (his “dol”). My husband brought in the store-bought cake with Mickey Mouse decorations and “Happy Birthday” and our son’s name in red. Our friend, who grew up in Korea and was hosting our son’s dol, gasp and explained that names should never been written in red. In fact, it bothered her so much that she recommended we not send photos of the cake to Korea.
Well, it ended up that our son didn’t like eating his store-bought cake anyway, and much preferred a Korean pear, so there wasn’t a big sentimental attachment to the cake. But it’s something that’s stuck in my mind since then, especially when ordering birthday cakes.