Age, respect, traditions and old people in Korea

Annyong!  좋은아침! Lindsay here.

So I just learned that phrase (pronounced Cho-heun achim) for ‘good morning’ today though I knew both of those words before and have failed previously to put them together to make a logical phrase.  Thankfully my friend Jihyun at the international center is also working to improve my very lacking Korean abilities.

Anyway, I’m getting ready to start my homework for the week and came across a good cultural point in my book, talking about age and respect in Korea.

Korean culture is strongly affected by Confucianism and the relationship between people in areas such as seniority is very important. Because of this, when adults speak to one another they use a polite form of speech, very different than if you were talking to a child or someone younger than you.

People also stand up when older people enter the room, receive offered gifts with two hands, and when having alcohol together turn their bodies away from each other before taking a drink. On a bus, it is polite to always give up your seat if an older person gets on the bus.

The other day, I had an appointment across town and decided to walk there since the weather was so nice for a change. I was walking under an overpass when this old woman, one giant wrinkle from head to toe, and bent in a 90-degree angle at her waist, came from around a corner.

I of course was curious about this woman, who seemed 700 years old and was pulling a large oxcart of cardboard behind her (a typical job for elder Koreans who need to make a little money) so I couldn’t help but stare at her.  She suddenly looked up and saw me and smiled the biggest grin I have ever seen, showing a mouth devoid of teeth, before she erupted into laughter at the sight of me. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind.

“Annyong haseo,” I said to her and bowed before walking on. I could hear the woman still cackling behind me.

Talk about two different people from two completely different times. I have thought about that woman a lot the past couple of days and wonder what her life is like and has been like.

In another note, I came across these photos the other day that I took last year and it reminded me yet again how Korea is such an advanced country struggling to hang on to their worn traditions and rural settings. Here are a few of my photos showing the older people and traditions of Korea, sites unseen if you don’t leave the city centers.


  1. Jim and Rach says:

    Thanks for this. My girlfriend and I are (were) both keen runners. We arrived in Gwangju 2 months ago so we had no clue about where to look for arranged running events. Now we just need to get back into shape 😦


  2. wpaltizer says:

    Hey guys!! Come run with us on Sundays. The Gwangju Running Club is on Facebook and we get together for some low-key fun runs. Check it out!!/group.php?gid=113340165347695&ref=ts


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