A Kdrama Fan in Korea

One of my favorite things about k-dramas is how it brings people from all over the world together. Case in point is my friend MiataMama, whose husband has been stationed in Korea for the past few years. She’s been a drama fan for much longer than that, so she’s had ample time to see if things like wrist-grabbing are a thing in Korea, or just made up for our favorite OTPs.

Here are the questions you all asked that she could answer. Thanks for your submissions, drama fans!

Q: Does everyone consider shaking an unconscious person and telling them to wake up the first step in rendering aid?

A: I haven’t been in a situation where someone has fallen unconscious in front of me, so I do not know if this is a common maneuver for rendering aid.  My experience has been that when my kids have been out and about playing and have fallen or been hurt, there is always an immediate response of, and flocking of, the nearby mothers to said injured child to offer sympathy, band-aids, or a treat to smooth things over.

Q:  Is it required to have a first aid kit (fully stocked) in every home? OR, I wonder the opposite? Why do they have to go to the pharmacy for cold medicine or bandaids all the time? Don’t they keep any at home?

A:  My experience? It’s a bit of both.  If you throw a stone, you’ll hit a pharmacy.  So it’s extremely easy to roll in, pick up a bandage or medicine, and roll out!  I also have had occasions where one of my children has gotten a scratch and the Korean moms will immediately whip out a band-aid (or jog across the street to buy one for me) without any hesitation!  Being sick or hurt is ALWAYS an immediate cause for concern and after asking if you are okay, they will ask if you have been to the hospital (i.e. clinic) or if you haven’t, suggest that you head there without delay!

Q: Does someone’s first love always trump any future relationships?

A: None of my Korean friends have ever expressed any pinings over their past first love…

Q:  Feeding each other. People always seem to be feeding each other whether directly or placing bite into the other person’s rice bowl.

A: Yes.  Not super common, but yes.  I believe this has to do in part with Korean history and a time when food was in short supply.  A common greeting in the not so distant past translates to “Did you eat?” Eating, like sleeping, is a very communal event, with a bowl of rice for each person but all other dishes being shared.  I would point out that while communal, eating is not a “social” event in Korea. With meals, you come in, you eat, and you get up and move on. There’s not much conversing (and if there is, it is just like the dramas where people talk around huge mouthfuls of food!) and they never stay to chat once the meal is finished.  Going to coffee shops, however, is a social thing! Most coffee shop,s i.e. Starbucks, don’t open until at least 10 or 11AM and will stay open midnight or later as place for people to gather and hang out.

Q:  I always wonder about the medical issues that come up – lack of treatment for mental illness, people not getting treatment because of the bills or doctors withholding treatment in order to blackmail people, etc. Think back to the father in Cheese in the Trap who listened to ONE doctor and assumed his son was a psycho in the making! I totally understand that health care is very off in the United States as well, but the situational politics of health care in Korea has me baffled.

A: So, I have no idea about mental healthcare in this country.  As far as treatments at local hospitals or clinics goes, I can say this:

I was hospitalized at a local university hospital with a case of pneumonia (unfortunately, my husband was also hospitalized along with me for the same thing).  We were fortunate in that our American emergency insurance covered a semi-private (i.e. two bed) room for us. But in the same ward there were other rooms with 8 beds to a room with the pull-out cots for the patient’s guardians.  Nurses at the hospital are there primarily to administer medicines and check vitals. Caring for the patient in any other aspect, such as bringing water, removing food trays, assisting with the positioning of the bed… these things are all done by the “guardian.”  When we asked the nurse to bring us some water, she immediately pointed down the hall to the water dispenser and asked if we had a water bottle to take with us to fill up. The other thing that surprised us greatly was that the nurses NEVER wore rubber gloves while administering medicine or taking our vitals!!  While we were at the hospital, we both received multiple x-rays as well as CAT scans. The amount of our bill for these tests as well as the hospital stay would have been 10x more expensive had we been seen under the same circumstances back in the States. Compared to the US, Korean healthcare is VERY cheap!!!

Most recently I had to take my son to a local pediatric clinic for treatment of an ear infection.  My Korean friends, who went with us, apologized for how expensive it was for me because I was paying out of pocket.  The visit with the doctor was 19,000 won and the 7-days worth of antibiotics, tylenol, and cough medicine totaled 25,000 won.  Much cheaper than what you could find in the US; however, these friends told me that with their insurance, they would have only paid 1,250 won for the doctor visit and maybe 2,000 at the pharmacy.  

While I feel health care in Korea is very affordable, I also feel like you get what you pay for.  There is not much time spent on investigating the patient’s history and the examinations are very quick and superficial, in my experience.  So I think this lends to a revolving door mentality, in going to the hospital for the slightest hint of a medical issue. And why everyone’s first response when you feel unwell is to suggest going to the hospital!

Q: Are there really kids just left to fend for themselves?

A: I’ve not experience any kids who are guardian-less…  But on the whole, because it is very safe here, children are given a much larger free-rein and supervised much less than their peers in the US.  Shortly after we first arrived here, my daughter was invited to a birthday party by a girl on the playground. They had played together several times before, but I had never seen this child’s parents.  So we accepted the invite, but I accompanied my daughter to this girl’s apartment, which was in our building. We arrived and were welcomed by the girl, her younger brother, and several friends. We had been there about 10 minutes before her mom came out of the bedroom.  She greeted me, promptly apologized, and told me she had to go to work, leaving her children and their friends alone with my daughter and myself (someone she had never met before). After eating snacks and cakes, the birthday girl rounded up her friends, and herded everyone out the door to head off for (what I later figured out) was a trampoline play-place. We chose not to follow… but I was amazed that this girl (I think she was all of 9 or 10) was so wholly unsupervised and how comfortable she was with that responsibility.

Q: Also, another one I tried Googling the other day and couldn’t find – are prisoners really tied up with rope?

A:  I deferred to the hubby on this one, and he said he has never seen that in real life, himself.

Q: Does everyone just eat barley tea and hard boiled eggs every time they go to the sauna??

A:  I don’t know?!  My American level of modestly and personal space is such that I’ve not been brave enough to try out a jjimjilbang yet!  LOL

Q:  Do mostly of the high schoolers really need to get a part time job?

A:  I honestly don’t believe high-schoolers get part-time jobs in this country?!  They spend all their time outside of classes at the study halls!!!

Q:  One I just thought of after seeing it in a drama: Do men in Korea actually scream in frustration?

A:  I’ve never witnessed this, and hubby says no as well.  I’ve seen ahjussis yell and curse, but never seen one scream.

Q: They rarely say bye when they end phone conversations but just shut the phone?

A:  YES!!!!  There is absolutely no etiquette  for saying goodbye before ending your phone call.  When Koreans are done talking they just hang up! As a foreigner, this means either you are greeted with a dial tone before you think the conversation is finished or you risk hanging up on the other person when *you* think the call is over!  I have no idea why it is this way, but it is!!

Q: Does EVERYONE grab wrists or arms, or is that a drama thing?

A: I’ve only witnessed it a handful of times myself, but my hubby relays that he has been the recipient of an arm grab!

Q:  Why do they never take their coats off when they sit at a table indoors?

A:  It’s very possible that the indoors is not warmly heated (utitlies are expensive in Korea).  Also, Koreans as a whole are very intolerant of the cold, yet very tolerant of the heat. There have been many occasions where I’m dripping with sweat and they’re not even dewy…. I think I actually read somewhere that there is a documented study showing that Koreans don’t sweat like the rest of us!

Q:  Does every “ahjumma” wear a curly perm with mismatched, sloppy clothes and clogs?

A: LOL, well maybe not EVERY ahjumma, but a good bunch of them do!  This is one place where dramaland very accurately represents real life!  I will say that (if I had to guess) this is more of an over 50 (years of age) type look… although, I have seen a couple moms at the bus stop on occasion rockin’ the baggy, flowered ahjumma pants! They’re probably very comfy!

Q:  Do Koreans really go to the hospital for the least injury or sign of illness?

A: Refer to my answer about healthcare above!

Q:  Is the white truck of doom really a thing?

A:  Hmmmmm…. well, while I don’t know about the accuracy of the “WTOD” that is hired to specifically run someone over… as a driver, I can say that large cab trucks in this country drive fast and aggressively and are quite scary and intimating.  With narrow roads and most freight being moved by truck in this country, you will easily encounter many of them on a daily basis. Just the other day, I witnessed a tanker truck flat out running a red left hand turn light. Thank goodness there were no pedestrians crossing at that particular intersection!!  Pedestrians are not granted the same assurance of right-of-way that we are accustomed to in the US. Even if you are in a crosswalk you cannot be certain that cars will stop for you. Especially those making right hand turns on a red lights. And sadly so many people are engaged in looking at their cellphones (both drivers and pedestrians) that awareness of surroundings is very low.

Q: Is every mother-in-law really evil?

A:  Maybe not evil, but expects proper deference from the DiL and, because she herself was probably treated poorly by her own MiL, is of the mind that she paid her dues and now it’s her turn as the elder to dish out what she had to endure.  It’s funny/not funny that there are often references made about how difficult MiLs are and how to deal with them at the language classes I attend. In Korean culture, because sons are expected to care for their aging parents, it’s very common for the husband’s parents, husband and wife (and their kids) to all be living together under one roof… so, I’m sure that adds a bit of strain to the MiL/DiL situation.

Q: It’s not customary to have a lot of kids, right?

A: Hmmmm, more of an overpopulation/cost/late age of marrying kind of thing.  At one time the government encouraged population control, but lately because the birth rate dropped so low, they have done PSAs encouraging people to have more kids… My hubby recalls hearing one on the radio to the effect of: One child is good, two is better, three is great! 🤣  Where we live, a lot of the families around us have two or three children and a surprising amount have four! There are two other moms at the bus stop that have four kids in their families too! But, as my family travels around the country, it is obvious that having four children is definitely puts us firmly in the minority as far as family size goes!!   

And yes, once you become a mom, it’s customary for you to be referred to as your child’s mother – I wouldn’t be called MiataMama, but would be called OldestChild’s mom.  And even if you are talking to me about one of my other children or do not know my eldest child well, I would still be OldestChild’s mom! Same for dads too.

Q:  Do parents really treat their children like they were born solely to do their bidding?

A:  I don’t think it’s so much to do their bidding, but parents in this culture give their children everything, so I believe they feel that their children should show proper deference to (and to a certain extent, owe) them because of that.  This is a rank-based society, primarily by age, but also by status… so reality is, children aren’t allow to cross their parents and are expected to respect them whether they agree with the parent or not. I have had a peer mom (late 30’s) tell me that she didn’t like how her mom did something, but because it was her mom, she couldn’t say anything and just had to go along with it. This is not uncommon.

Q: Is it a real thing that only men can change light bulbs for some reason? It feels like a weirdo plot device for tv but is it based on something?

A: I can’t say I’ve paid any attention to this??  In our apartment complex, there is a maintenance crew to repairs and such for the residents… I’ve only seen one female working on that crew, whereas each apartment building has an ahjumma who sweeps/mops and cleans the hallways and such everyday.  Maybe it’s more of an old school mentality of women’s work vs men’s work?

Q:  Do adoptive parents really treat their adopted children like second class citizens?

A:  Koreans don’t adopt.  That’s why there are still so many international adoptions of children from South Korea.  The strength of bloodline and family name is very important, so they do not accept adopted children into their families.  American friends of ours adopted while living here and they were told that children who are obviously mixed race and not full Korean were even more likely to be abandoned.  It’s very, very sad.

Q:  Does everyone really have the latest cell phone, regardless of how poor they are?

A:  I think so!  LOL The only people I see with “old” phones are the elderly.  They will whip out their flip phone to take a call. But the younger generations ALL have smart phones, even kids as young as 7 or 8.  My older children attend an international school here in Daejeon, and one of my daughter’s 6th grade classmates has an iPhone X. Koreans as a whole are a bit obsessed with having the newest and best “fill-in-the-blank”….  Second hand shops (like Goodwill) don’t really exist here…

That was truly eye-opening, MiataMama. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

Karie the Maknae

Dramas with a Side of Kimchi


6 thoughts on “A Kdrama Fan in Korea

    • That might be my long term goal. Once I am in my late 50s it is going to be perms and ahjumma pants for me. I already have the sun protective hat (a bit more stylish than the black visor ones) that I ordered from Korea last year.

      • hahaha! One thing I vowed not to become was a “Q-tip” head, but I know I’ll be keeping my hair (if it doesn’t all fall out!) on the short side as natural as possible. I’m already getting a lot of white/silver hairs. I think I’ll be living out my old days in slippers/flats and loungewear from Walmart.

  1. So cool to hear about how the dr/hospital/insurance straight from someone who has experienced it. I’d be the kind of mom with the full medical box at the ready.

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