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The Intricate Rules of Korean Valentines.

February 14, 2012

So, now that I snuck that poem past you… a post! This one contains tangentially related pictures!

I arrived in this country not just a teacher who was looking to learn how to teach. I also was curious to discover the wacky culture of a strange little part of the world that I didn’t understand, so that I could report back to you. Yes, to you. I’ve already mentioned that Halloween isn’t really understood here, and that they put pumpkin on their pizza, but what does Korea think about Valentine’s Day?

Like a Facebook status, it’s complicated.

Pictured: Lunacy.

See, Korea is generally built for couples. They have cafes for couples, resorts for couples, even little stores for couples to buy matching outfits. Everywhere you go, you’ll see young Korean couples holding hands and dragging each other into DVD rooms and photo booths. Because so many Koreans live at home until they’re married (and often even after that), they need activities for couples to run around and do to occupy themselves. More importantly though, they need to constantly reemphasize their coupleyeness while doing so.

Apparently chocolate advertisement is stuck in the 1950s

So, February 14th is set up in a very specific way. On Valentine’s Day, girls give gifts to boys. Many couples do indeed exchange gifts in both directions on this day, but officially it is the day for girls to give gifts to their boyfriends or the boy they’re crushing on. I asked all my male students if they got any gifts today. Not a single one did…. buncha nerds.

When do the girls get presents then? The following month, on March 14th, a month of sweaty foreheaded nervousness, the boys reciprocate with gifts for the girls. This day is called White Day. It’s pretty much round two. I’m sure all of the restaurants pack out with couples a second time and the suicide rates get to kick up all over again. Supposedly, the boys need to give presents that are at least two to three times the value of the presents they got.

Here’s some chocolate that I got a kick out of photographing. It must be easy to be a Mad Men type guy in Korea. The slogan on this particular candy bar just literally says “it makes you feel better”.

Once again, a supreme demonstration of Korean subtlety.

Okay, so it’s twice as complicated as the Valentine’s Day I’m used to (which is already too complicated). That’s it though, right? No no no… there’s a third day. BLACK DAY.

On this most depressing of days, the single people who didn’t receive any gifts for the previous two months go to public areas and eat jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with black bean sauce. They do this to “celebrate their singleness” … IN SHAME.

Taste the sadness, Michael

This is what loneliness takes like.

Supposedly they’ll serve this at all the university campuses and all the lonely hearts are supposed to eat together and perhaps bond over being such unlovable losers. They live a rougher life than we, ’cause they’re on their own (joke for exactly one person).

It’s Black Day that interests me the most out of all of this. I imagine many romantic comedies being structured around this ridiculous concept. I’ve eaten jajangmyeon before. It’s pretty decent for a while, but I think I’m losing my taste for it. Wink.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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  1. Laura Finlayson permalink

    Glad to see there are some green vegetables in the jajangmyeon – two whole peas!
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. Joke appreciated! I’m glad that that song makes more sense (any sense?) in Korea.
    And yeah, my mind also jumped to the rom-com possibilities of Black Day.

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