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Customs

Family Life

Traditionally in Korea, the typical family size is quite large, with three or four generations usually living together under the same roof. Because infant mortality was high and a big family was thought of as a blessing, having many children was the desired option. However, as the country underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization during the 1960s and 1970s the pattern was accompanied by an effective birth control drive, and the average number of children in a family dramatically decreased to two or less in the 1980s.

Having a long Confucian tradition under which the eldest son takes over as head of the family, many Korean families preferred having a son. To tackle the problem of male preference, the government has completely rewritten family-related laws in a way that ensures equality for sons and daughters in terms of inheritance.

Industrialization of the country has made life more hectic and complicated. Young married couples have begun to separate from their extended families and start their own homes. Now almost all families are couple-centered nuclear families.

Names

The majority of Koreans have family names within one of a small set: Kim (about 21% of all Koreans), Yi (or Lee or Rhee, 14%), Park (or Pak, 8%), Choi (or Choe), Jeong (or Chung), Jang (or Chang), Han, Lim, etc. A Korean name consists of a family name, in almost every case one syllable, plus a given name usually of two syllables. The family name comes first. A Korean woman does not take her husband's family name, but their children take their father's family name.

Marriage

Koreans think marriage is the most important passage in one's life and a divorce is regarded as a disgrace not only for the couple but also for their families, still the divorce rate is growing rapidly these days. Today's typical wedding ceremony is somewhat different from what it was in old times: first a Western-style ceremony is usually held at a wedding hall or a church with the bride wearing a white dress and the groom wearing a tuxedo, then later in the day the bride and groom have a traditional ceremony at a different room in the venue, in colorful traditional costumes.

Jerye (Ancestral Memorial Rite)

According to traditional Korean beliefs, when people die, their spirits do not immediately depart; they stay with their descendants for four generations. During this period the deceased are still regarded as family members, and Koreans reaffirm the relationship between ancestors and descendants through jerye on special days like Sollal (Lunar New Year's Day) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day), as well as on the anniversary of their ancestors' passing. Koreans also believe that people can live well and happily thanks to benefits their ancestors bestow upon them.

Body Language

When you beckon to a person, do so with your palm down, and then flutter your hand up and down with your fingers touching together. It is not polite to beckon with your palm up, especially using only one finger, because Koreans do that only to dogs.

Ondol

Traditional Korean rooms have multiple functions. Rooms are not labeled or reserved for a specific purpose; there is no definite bedroom or dining room for example. Rather, tables and mats are brought in as needed. Most people sit and sleep on the floor on thick mats. Underneath the floors are stone or concrete flues. Traditionally hot air was vented through the flues to provide heat. Clay or cement would be placed over the stones to protect the residents from noxious gasses. This type of under floor heating is called ondol. Nowadays hot water is piped through cement floors covered with linoleum.

Gimjang

Gimjang is the age-old Korean practice of preparing winter kimchi, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Since very few vegetables are grown in the three or four winter months, gimjang takes place in early winter and provides what has become a staple food for Koreans. For Koreans, a dinner table without kimchi is unthinkable.

Traditional Korean Clothing (Hanbok)

The hanbok has been the Korean people's unique traditional costume for thousands of years. The beauty and grace of Korean culture can be seen in photographs of women dressed in the hanbok. Before the arrival of Western-style clothing one hundred years ago, the hanbok was worn as everyday attire. Men wore jeogori (Korean jackets) with baji (trousers) while women wore jeogori with chima (skirt). Today, the hanbok is worn on days of celebration such as weddings, Seollal (Lunar New Year's Day) or Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day).

Traditional Korean Houses

A traditional Korean house is called hanok. Hanok sought to create a living space based on the coexistence of nature and humans. Accordingly, the natural aspects of traditional Korean houses range from the structure's inner layout to the building materials which were used. Another unique feature of traditional houses is their special design for cooling the interior in the summer and heating the interior in the winter. Since Korea has such hot summers and cold winters, the ondol gudeul, a floor-based heating system and daecheong, a cool wooden-floor style hall, were devised long ago to help Koreans survive the frigid winters and to make the sweltering and humid summers bearable. These primitive types of heating and air-conditioning were so effective that they are still in use in many homes today.


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