Korean Dramas particularly appeal to a lot of people because of their actors’ visuals and fascinating storyline. But not only that. K-dramas also allow us to take a glimpse of Korea’s rich culture. While learning a different culture is a fun and positive experience most of the time, enjoying drama plots may require more effort for the part of the international viewers. Because of the cultural difference, there will be lines that might not make full sense or important scenes we cannot completely appreciate unless we do some research and learn the “whys” behind such lines and scenes.
As your rookie guide to Korean dramas, we have compiled a list of common K-drama lines that usually give that instant “culture shock” to a newbie K-drama viewer.
1. Speech and Politeness Levels, and Honorifics
“How old are you? I think we are the same age. Do you want to drop the honorifics and talk casually?”
These mention of age and honorifics, usually upon first meeting, is what commonly gives a rookie K-drama viewer his first culture shock. One of the most interesting parts of the Korean culture is how particular they are with politeness, that they even have different speech levels to appropriately convey respect. They use “informal speech” for someone of the same age or close relationships like those of friends, “standard speech” for everyday communication, and “formal speech” when giving public broadcasts, official statements or in any situations that need more respect.
Because they are very hierarchical, they use various honorifics depending on the person’s level in the social hierarchy. Below are some of the most common Korean honorifics – Family title and Suffixes – we often hear in K-dramas:
2. Korean Age and International Age
“How old are you?”
“In Korean or in International Age?”
While mention of Korean VS International age is most commonly heard in talk shows or interviews of Korean stars, we have also observed them being mentioned in some dramas that portray characters who “used to live overseas”. Surprising as it seems, but apparently, Koreans have 2 ages. First is the international age that starts from the day they were born (yes, the age we all know of). Secondly, the Korean Age which is quite more complicated and confusing to calculate. Koreans count the time spent inside their mother’s womb as one year and they add another year every January. This means that a child born in December will instantly be two years old in January of the following year. So, when our K-drama character mentions his age, know that he’s in fact younger in our standards as that is 1 or 2 years overstated.
3. Confessions and Dating
“I like you. What about you?”
“Do you want to date me?”
K-dramas are known for their adorable and heart-fluttering confession scenes. What’s very notable is the directness and clarity of these confessions, which often instantly lead to dating. There is no courtship in Korea, so an immediate and clear answer is normally expected after a confession. Most of the time, this is done with a simple and straightforward “I like you. What about you?” or “Do you want to date me?” If the receiving party gives a positive reply, usually by saying, “I like you too” or “Okay, let’s date” then that day marks their first day as a couple. If her answer is no, or usually said in lines like, “I’m sorry, I don’t like you”, then that is an utter rejection – The end.
Because of this direct and clear process of love confessions, it is very common to see a character receiving multiple confessions or invitations to date, sometimes, even from strangers or random people. In addition to that, confessions can be done by both man and woman. Accordingly, it’s very typical to see female characters confessing love in K-dramas.
4. Seeing a person as a man or a woman
“I see you as a woman.”
Another way our Korean drama characters make their confession is by declaring stepping out of the friend zone – that he wants them to become more than friends. Although the words used this time are a little less direct than the straightforward “I like you”, they still deliver it pretty unswervingly and an outright answer is likewise expected. Sometimes, this is also said to add emphasis to the intention, especially when the person receiving the confession doesn’t get the message that the other person wants to date – “I like you . . . I don’t see you as a friend. I see you as a woman.”
We can also hear the same line when the receiving party rejects the confession – “I’m sorry, but I don’t see you as a man.”
5. Bloodtype personalities
“Your blood type is A, right? I knew it. That’s why you’re such a perfectionist!”
“I want you to be my son-in-law. Can you tell what your blood type is?”
If you’re not from Japan or South Korea, I bet these lines will probably get you lost big time! Because we certainly did! These lines are because the Bloodtype Personality Theory is generally accepted in Korea. This theory claims that “a person’s blood group system is predictive of a one’s personality, temperament, and compatibility with others”. Consequently, we often hear it as a comment to one’s distinctive behavior or from someone seeking a partner or love interest.
6. Past life and Next Life
“You must have saved him in your past life.”
“Let’s meet again in our next life.”
Buddhism is one of the major religions in Korea. For this reason, most of them believe in reincarnation and the afterlife. This explains the mentions of past and next life in Korean dramas. Suppose the character is experiencing quite a series of positive turn of events. In that case, we might hear someone comment, “you might have saved a king in your past life” – which means things are unfolding positively for that person in compensation for a great job he did in his past life. Or when a character is nearing death, he might tell his love one, “I hope we meet again in our next life.”
7. Invitation for instant noodles or ramyeon
“Would you like to come in for some ramyeon?”
This line here sounds pretty polite and normal. However, a newbie to K-drama might be surprised why this line often gets a flustered response from the opposite character. This is often heard from a female character in scenes where the male hero has brought her home. While inviting someone for a meal might look well-intentioned, especially when made to someone who did you a favor, to Koreans, an invitation for an instant noodle has a deeper meaning. It is actually a way to invite someone into one’s home, not only to have instant noodles but to have something that’s a lot more intimate. Yes, you got it right! It is in fact a sexual innuendo. For this reason, hearing this line from an innocent female character often creates a fun and hilarious scene as it will surely make the male character blush or have unintended indecent conclusions.
If you just started enjoying Korean dramas and have somehow got lost in some of its important scenes, I hope this small list helped you see the light! Please feel free to share this to your chingus who just started their K-drama journey!