Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Contradictions of Korean Family Culture

Korea has one of those cultures that posits that family is important above all. That position is a good thing, of course. However, I see some strange contradictions in Korean family culture. My sister lent me a book entitled "American/Korean Contrasts." I will forego the explanation of what it's about, since that should be obvious. I'll highlight a few of the contradictions that I read.

It seems that when Koreans say family comes first, it means extended family, not immediate family. Call me American, but I think if it came down to choosing between one or the other, I would choose my immediate family.

The Korean business world is conducted in a much different manner than America. It is apparently much more important to socialize with one's colleagues. The book says that it's expected of the husband to meet after hours with colleagues for dinner and drinks and whatnot. In one part of the book, it says that husbands and wives are usually expected to lead lives separate of each other. My "Western" religion of Christianity says that the husband and wife are one. I guess so far we've done a poor job of being a Korean married couple ;) To me, if you're leading a life separate from your wife, then you are not doing a good job of putting family first. Of course, this is not to say that all Korean marriages are horrible. It's just not the way I would do things. Says the book:

"...it is rare for husband and wives to go out alone together. Usually, the wife stays at home while the husband meets his friends immediately after work and eats and drinks with them until late in the evening."
Employees in Korea are expected to work as long hours as their boss. If their boss doesn't leave, then they do not leave. I'm very Americanized in this respect, because I would hate having to do that. I'd rather go home and spend time with my family. I guess this is why I never heard my mom complain about the long hours my dad would spend at work (even though he worked for American companies all his life, he'd still put in some very long hours sometimes).

Although I haven't done a lot of research, it seems to me that a lot of Korean kids feel that their relationship with their dad is a bit of a distant one. This is confirmed by the book, where it says the following:
In general, the father's relationship with his children is usually formal and distant. Love is rarely expressed through words or physical expressions of affection, and often an element of fear or awe exists.
This was/is definitely true in my family. And it's not the way I want to be as a dad.

Marriage in Korea is usually based on family concerns and whatnot. If the family thinks it's a bad idea, ain't happening. If the family likes someone that you're not particularly crazy about, better get used to him/her. While "love marriages" are getting more common in Korea these days, arranged marriages are still largely popular.

While I find a lot of these things strange, I can see how most Korean adults truly hold to heart that "family is first." It's just different to me because they take that to mean that until you are the oldest ones left in your family tree, it's all about the extended family. Arranged marriage would be putting family first because it's putting your original family first, not the one you intend to start. Spending long hours at work might be putting family first because you are making good impressions upon your superiors (some people in America probably hold to that attitude too). Some of the other things are just plain weird to me though...how can it be putting family first to be distant and formal with your children?

In conclusion, I think I might have found a good way to express why this Korean family culture seems so foreign to me. It seems that family love in Korea is very duty-oriented, whereas the family love that I want to cultivate in my own new family is affection-oriented.

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  • Iris

    I learned a lot from that book. Things started to make sense when I read it. I think though, that Abba's changed a little bit. He says "I love you" to me first and is always up for a hug. I can see how affection would be very important to you - I think I remember you wrote or told me that one of yours or Harmony's (or both) love languages was Physical Touch.

  • CappuccinoLife

    That is so interesting! If my brother marries a Korean woman who was raised in that culture, it would be a real cross-cultural marriage, even though he was born in Korea and still looks Korean. ;)

    Are there things about Korean culture that you prefer, though? Josiah and i have found that *both* of us have had to reconsider the cultural expectations we were raised with. He grew up never seeing his parents being affectionate with each other and from what I can tell, not experiencing much affection from them as a child. It "just isn't done" there. That is something he has decided to change for the sake of me and our children (and ultimately it's good for him too :D). But there were definately things about American culture that I had to accept weren't quite best, even given my very loving, sweet Christian family upbringing. It's amazing how much Dr. Laura's Proper Care and Feeding of Husband's applied to me, having always prided myself on being a non-feminist. Embarassing, really.

  • JunkMale


    You read my mind for my next post on Korean things. I'm planning on writing a post on things that I like about Korean culture. Stay tuned...

    You know, at first I read your comment wrong and thought you said that you and Josiah decided not to be affectionate in front of kids. And I was wondering..."how on earth can that be GOOD for the kids??" Good thing I read that wrong ;)