Korean Society and Culture
The Korean Language
Over 70 million people worldwide speak the Korean language. The fact that all Koreans speak and write the same language has been a crucial factor in their strong national identity. Like many countries the modern Korean language has several different dialects including the standard one used in Seoul and central areas, but they are similar enough that speakers/listeners do not have trouble understanding each other.
Korean Family Values
- In Korean life, family is the most important aspect. The father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to approve the marriages of family members.
- The eldest son has special duties: first to his parents, then to his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters.
- Individual welfare comes second to that of the family.
- Members of the family are tied to each other because the actions of one family member reflect on the rest of the family.
- In many cases the family register can trace a family’s history, through male ancestors, for over 500 years.
- Ancestors are traced back on the male family line and not the females.
- Children are raised to believe they can never repay their debt to their parents, hence the popularity of ancestor worship.
- Koreans hold ancestral ceremonies for the previous three generations (parents, grandparents, and great grandparents) several times a year, particularly on Chusok (Korean equivalent of Thanks Giving) and New Year’s Day.
- On Chusok, people cook and set out food to celebrate their ancestors.
The Concept of Kibun
The word Kibun literally has no English translation; the closest words are pride, face, mood, feelings, or state of mind. If you hurt someone’s kibun you hurt their pride, cause them to lose dignity, and lose face. Korean interpersonal relationships operate on the principle of harmony. It is important to maintain a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere at all times, even if it means telling a “white lie”.
Kibun enters into every aspect of Korean life. It’s important to know how to judge the state of someone else’s kibun, how to avoid hurting it, and how to keep your own kibun at the same time.
In a business environment, employees can damage their manager’s kibun if they do not show the correct respect and courtesy. A employees kibun is damaged if their manager criticises him/her in public.