Is That a Thing? Dramas vs Real Life in Korea

When I was putting together my post of Korean culture questions for MiataMama, Kdrama Jen helpfully suggested that she had some host daughters who live in Korea, and that they could  answer questions too! So below we have answers from HostDaughter1, who is 26, a former military officer and current office worker; and HostDaughter2, who is 21 and currently a student at a prestigious Korean university. MiataMama is an American. She and her children are in Korea with her husband, who has been stationed there with the US military for a few years. 

It’s been interesting to see their different responses to these questions, and to see the difference in their experiences. Enjoy!

Why is the first snowfall so special?

HostDaughter1: First snowfall means a lot. Well, it is romantic.

HostDaughter2: I don’t know exactly. But I think snow is rare in Korea and pretty, so the first snow is regarded as meaningful.


Q: And what’s the deal with rooftop apartments with huge patio areas? Doesn’t everyone else in the bldg want a piece of that?

HostDaughter2: Most Koreans live in apartments without any rooftops. There are many beer shops on the rooftops, so we visit there if we want to enjoy some beer, but we don’t always live there.

MiataMama: I’ve not personally visited a rooftop apartment, but from my apt dwelling experiences, I can say this:

The negatives – The higher up you live, the warmer the your apartment is going to be during the summer.  Also, apartments are constructed mostly with concrete, leading to them being pretty cold in the winter.  This results in a pretty hefty electricity bill, or very uncomfortable living conditions. And, stairs. Rooftop apartments are usually found on 3-5 story building, w/o elevators, so you also have to hike up and down those flights when you are coming and going.  

The positives – As far as the patio goes…  I get the impression it is more communal that what we see on dramas.  Home gardening, i.e. growing any kind of veggie/herb in a planter, is prolific here, so rooftop space would be prime for everyone to throw down some pots!  And I believe that open patio area is huge for being able to hang laundry! Most apartment buildings are built in such a way that you have windows that receive either morning or afternoon sun (or both) directly, to aid in drying clothes.  (Koreans don’t use dryers, as we have in the States – there are some to be found, but they don’t heat the clothes. They are basically de-humidfiers, and take for-ev-er to dry anything).

Q: Do most Koreans sleep on the floor?

HostDaughter1: It depends on your preference. However, recently most people have their own bed.

HostDaughter2: No, most Koreans sleep on a bed if they can afford to buy one.

MiataMama: YES!!!!  And many keep to the sleeping arrangements, wherein the whole family shares one bedroom.  Again this is partly due to the fact that heating and cooling is expensive, so if everyone sleeps on the floor (Koreans use floor heat to keep homes warm in the winter), the heat from the floor is conducted thru the mat and you stay warmer more easily!  Same for the summer: Only one room has to be kept cool and as we all know from science class, cold air settles down low. Now, there are a fair share of Koreans that I know that have an actual bed, but the mattresses here are just as hard as the floor!

Side note here –  Because of families all sharing one bedroom, this gave rise to the “Love Motel/Hotel” culture.  This type of lodging can be found in most neighborhoods. It’s typically very clean and inexpensive. It’s primary use being a place for couples to get away for ‘alone time.’  The rooms can be rented hourly, a half-night or whole night. And yes, just like you might have seen in the dramas, they have the parking areas hidden by the fringed curtains to help their guests maintain their privacy!  These hotels are often used by families who are traveling as well, because the are cheap and clean. So there you go!

Q: Do Koreans go to sleep fully dressed?

HostDaughter1: I want to ask that question in reverse! Why are people always NOT dressed in bed?

MiataMama: I’m not sure.  But I’ve seen sleepwear available in the local department stores and markets!

Q: Do Koreans sleep with the lights on?

HostDaughter1: No, we don’t.

HostDaughter2: No, we turn them off. 🙂

MiataMama:  If you were to peek out the window at, say, 3AM, and look at the facing apartments, most are dark. So I would have to say what we see in dramas is more for the benefit of the viewer and not so much something that mirrors real life.

Q: Do couples really give piggyback rides to each other or is that just a drama excuse for skinship?

HostDaughter1: It’s just a drama excuse.

HostDaughter2: They might do so, but not in a public place.

MiataMama:  Since PDAs are still pretty frowned upon culturally here, I have not personally witnessed any piggy back rides (opposite sex or same sex), and rarely see couples holding hands in public.  However, it is very common for people/adults of the same sex (male and female) to hold hands as they are walking from one place to another. Both my husband and I have experienced this personally when we have been with Korean acquaintances!  A bit awkward for these two Americans!

Q: How much Subway do REAL Koreans eat?

HostDaughter2: Hahaha! The sandwich brand, Subway, appears on dramas a lot. But actually, we don’t go that much. But I heard that Koreans eat at Subway more than Americans do.

MiataMama: Well, there are a lot of Subway Sandwich shops here in Korea, but I wouldn’t say Western food is preferred to the extent we see it advertised in Dramaland.  Most Koreans will tell you that a meal isn’t a meal unless it has rice. Ramyun is considered a snack, not a meal. And bread in general is considered a snack item, not a meal staple.  So that being said, I think Subway is patronized more as a Western style “treat” and not really not considered a “must dine at” type of restaurant.

Q: Do people really do the needle finger stick for indigestion?

HostDaughter1: It’s derived from Chinese acupuncture. It is really effective, but some argue that it’s not good for your health.

HostDaughter2Yes, many people use that method! I think it’s helpful in real life. But I don’t know how it works.

MiataMama: I have never seen this technique administered in real-life.  My husband chimed in at this question to point out, that Koreans don’t seem to get indigestion (i.e. heartburn).  My hubby suffers from this malady chronically and once stopped at the pharmacy to pick up an emergency roll of antacid, but they didn’t have such a thing available in the shop!

Q: Are birth secrets really that common?

HostDaughter1: NO WAY. THAT IS FALSE.

HostDaughter2: Hahaha! No. It’s often used as a concept in K-dramas, but it’s really rare in reality.

MiataMama: I have not personally met a Korean with a birth secret.

Is it required to have a first aid kit (fully stocked) in every home?

HostDaughter1: It’s not mandatory, but many people keep a first aid kit in their homes.

HostDaughter2: It’s not mandatory, but most Koreans have it in their home in order to get first aid whenever they need it.

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?
HostDaughter1: Are there many dramas that include this kind of scene? It’s really awkward. Many people have bandages in their homes, but don’t carry them around.

HostDaughter2: Most Koreans have their first aid kits so they don’t have to go to the pharmacy every time.

Are family members really that involved in each other’s personal lives?  

HostDaughter2: I think yes. Whenever we make choice, we always consider our parents’ opinions. Koreans often act dependently.

Q: Do Korean mothers really wear white headbands and pretend to be sick when their children rebel or do something that really angers or disappoints them?

HostDaughter2: Hahahaha! It sounds fun. Actually, no. I’ve never seen my mom wearing that kind of headband.

MiataMama: I have never seen this in real life.  However, grown children show a lot of deference and respect to their parents/elders in this culture and crossing them, or going against their wishes, is not actively done.  

Q: Do parents really abandon their kids like if they remarry or if they are running from creditors?

HostDaughter2: This is hard to answer. If they remarry, one parent tends to take primary care of their child. And the child gets a chance to keep contact with the other parent. Of course, they may abandon their child. But it’s not usual and considered morally wrong.

MiataMama: I haven’t met anyone yet who is remarried, or running from creditors.

Q: Are arranged marriages still a thing?

HostDaughter2: Yes. There are even some companies that arrange it.

MiataMama:  In getting to know my married Korean friends, not one of them has shared their “meet-up” story as being an arranged marriage.  However… I attend language classes at the local Multicultural Family center. These classes are geared towards immigrant spouses who need to assimilate into their new Korean families.  Many of these women are from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, The Philippines, China, etc…. and while I have not confirmed specifically, it seems that their marriages are more of the arranged type, as they have left their home countries/families to marry an older Korean man and raise a family here.

Q: Do students really study all day and evening until 12 am?

HostDaughter2: Yes, most students do so. As for me, I studied until 2 am when I was in high school. Koreans put a huge emphasis on getting into a good university. So, they study until late.

MiataMama:  YES!!!!!  The study culture is strong in this country!  Where we live there is an elementary, middle, and high school within blocks of our apartment complex.  I sometimes see kids heading out to school in the morning as I drop of my kinder and pre-school aged children, but school aged kids usually get an earlier (8AM) start.  Most schools finish between 1-2pm and then you see kids heading off to their “hagwons” – these are after-school tutoring classes in English, math, music, art, dance, taekwondo and other sports.  These classes run from after school until at least 7pm for elementary students. And these young kids are usually on their own/with their peers shuffling from class to class (i.e. minimal parental involvement).  I don’t often seen middle schoolers, and rarely is there a high schooler to be found, as most of them will go to study rooms after the after-school classes wrap up (think like going to the library but there are no books!).  We even have a study room as part of the apartment community center.

My husband has taken a semester of Korean language at Sogang University in Seoul as well as a Korean military advanced-schooling course.  In both instances, it was very common for students to stay up midnight or later, studying or working on homework and projects. It was expected you would do this, so my husband was often chided for not staying up to study with the others in his group.  

Q: And sleep like 4 hours only, or pull all-nighters then go to work for the whole day?

HostDaughter2: Ummm. It depends. As for me, I tried to sleep for 6 hours at least, which is considered as proper sleeping time. But Koreans live very busy lives, so many people might do so.

MiataMama: Yes.  Sadly, most of the Korean dads we know do not get home until between 7-8 (that’s early) and 10 or 11 at night.  This is normal. Many moms have commented on the fact that my youngest children go to bed at 8. Theirs will stay up until daddy gets home and then go to bed.  So quite often you will see families with young children out and about well into the late hours of the evening. Also, if the senior person in the office stays, so do the subordinates, even if they are done with their work.  You don’t leave before the boss does.

Do people really get nosebleeds just from pulling all nighters?

HostDaughter2: It’s just a individual physical characteristic. Not everyone bleeds because of a lack of sleep.

Q:  Do high school girls or boys really line up and wait outside the gates of another school to see a glimpse of the ‘hearthrob’?

HostDaughter2: I haven’t ever done it. But I heard that if there’s a really handsome or pretty person in a school, sometimes students from other schools may line up. But it’s not usual.

MiataMama:  I’ve not had any occasion to witness this particular event.  Can’t confirm or deny.



I found this window into Korean culture from a native and a non-native resident absolutely fascinating, and I hope you did too!

Until next time, I remain–

Karie the Maknae

Dramas with a Side of Kimchi

2 thoughts on “Is That a Thing? Dramas vs Real Life in Korea

    • I loved putting them together! If we can figure out another aspect to explore, I’m sure we’ll do it again.

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