There are many cultural similarities between the U. S. A. and S. Korea, but there are also many differences. This is a really huge topic, so I will just try to touch on a few things.
America was built by hard work, and that much they have in common with the root and core of S. Korea. There are those in America who really don’t understand hard work anymore, but that is one way we rose in the world and became who we are, because people have known how to work hard in America. In South Korea, they are extremely hard workers. Lazy just doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary.
At one time, America was more innocent than it is. The sixties threw all that out. There are still innocent people in America, and America has held on to Christianity longer than many countries in Europe. However, there has been a decline in the innocence of the American people. S. Korea is full of innocent people. Not everyone is innocent, but the culture as a whole shines with innocence. When the Bible was introduced to them, they grabbed a hold of it with both hands! S. Koreans are innocent thinking people, and they love what is written in the Bible. At their core, they have always believed in God since the beginning of time, and America is the same way. At our core, since we began, only slightly more than 200 years ago, Americans have believed in God, and S. Korea and America have that in common.
The American young people are extremely into electronics, and the S. Koreans can say the same thing about their young people. In fact, in many ways, the S. Korean young people are even into cell phones more than the American young people. The American young people like their phones and carry them everywhere, but they also drive cars. However, the S. Korean young people don’t drive cars. They go everywhere in buses and on the subway. Their cell phones are their constant companions. They know when and where those buses and subways are to go exactly where they want to go, and their cell phone apps help them. Once they get on, that cell phone becomes their TV, their school book to study, etc. They are not driving the vehicle, so they have a lot of time to fiddle on those phones. As far as electronic games, the American young people have been into buying things like Game Cubes, Nintendo, Game Boys, etc., all through the recent years, but the S. Koreans haven’t bought as many of those things. The S. Koreans play on their phones and in PC rooms especially set up for kids to go and play computer games.
The S. Koreans have adopted the blue jeans, the suits, and whatever other kind of clothes are popular in America. The S. Korean men are more likely to wear a suit than a man in America. When I was in school, college professors were more likely to wear suits in America. However, by the time I got to a state school in graduate school, there were more professors wearing blue jeans to class. In Korea, a professor would never wear blue jeans to class. S. Korean teachers, in general, dress up more than American teachers and professors.
The S. Koreans have adopted our white wedding dresses, but they haven’t left behind their traditional wedding clothes. They have a ceremony where the women where white wedding dresses and the men wear suits or tuxedos, but afterward, the Koreans will go to a smaller room and change their clothes to traditional Korean clothing. In America, it is extremely important to several young couples that they are married in a church building by a preacher. However, in S. Korea, that isn’t true. Koreans have huge wedding halls that look like palaces with several big rooms used for wedding ceremonies. If they are Christians, they may have a preacher at the front, but if they aren’t they may not. They may not even have wedding vows if they aren’t Christians. The parents sit at the front, and the groom bows to the brides parents, and the bride bows to the groom’s parents. There are usually friends singing. If they are Christians, often it is a group from church singing. If they aren’t Christians, I have actually been to a wedding that was more like going to a fancy nightclub. Koreans haven’t adopted our big wedding cakes either. They have several small rice cakes at the wedding receptions.
We give gifts to the newlyweds differently in each country also. In America, we actually bring wrapped up gifts to the wedding the young couple opens at the wedding reception. Often, before the young couple is married, there are wedding showers. The bride’s maids and matrons of honor give these for the bride. They are parties where everyone brings a gift for the new couple. In S. Korea, there are no wedding showers or wrapped gifts at the wedding. Outside of the big auditorium at the wedding hall, there is a desk. There are guest books there and people related to the bride and groom are there. If you want to give a gift, you have brought money in a special fancy wedding envelope. If you don’t know the couple very well, they discourage you from giving money, but if you are good friends, and you don’t give a good amount of money, the couple may feel bad. I learned that about 100,000 won was usually an appropriate gift for my friends. That is about $100. They use the money to pay for the wedding hall, the wedding reception, and the honeymoon. When you give the money, they accept it either on behalf of the bride or the groom, and they write it all down in a special book.
As far as birthdays, they have adopted the birthday cake in recent years. However, it is never homemade because Korean women don’t bake. They buy the birthday cakes from bakeries. The time we celebrate our birthdays, on the day of our birth, is a new concept in S. Korea. Only the young people celebrate on the day of their birth. The older people still celebrate their birth on the Lunar New Year. Their traditional birthday food is seaweed soup. On birthdays in America, we give gifts if we are close to the person. In Korea, the birthday cake is the gift.
As far as funerals, theirs are completely different from funerals in America. When someone dies in S. Korea, there are halls in the bottom of the hospitals. The body is not on display, but everyone goes there to honor the deceased. There is a kind of altar set up to the dead person. Their picture will be there. There will be bowls of fruit and maybe flowers on the table also. There are huge tripods full of flowers setting everywhere sent by well wishers. The traditional color for mourning isn’t black, but white. People come, go to the room where the table is set up to honor the deceased, and possibly bow in respect or say a prayer for the deceased, and then go into another room. In the other room, you will find the family along with lots of long tables. You have to sit in the floor to sit at one of these tables. There is food being served, and you stay, visit with the family and eat. That is the way you show your concern for the deceased and their family.
This is a lot different from funerals in America. In America, they usually have a service at a church building or perhaps at the funeral home. The deceased is there in a coffin, and we can usually see the deceased. They are dressed in really nice clothing, and the mortician may have even put makeup on them to make them look better. Everyone wants to file by and see the body. Before the funeral, we may just visit the funeral home to see the body. At the funeral the body is in the front of the auditorium. All the friends and family are packed into the auditorium. The preacher talks about the deceased, There are people singing hymns. The widow and others close to the deceased sit at the front and the widow probably will be wearing black. Others may also be dressed in black. At some funerals, the preacher opens it up for people in the audience to share their memories of the deceased with the others. After the ceremony and the sharing, there is usually a procession to the graveyard. The body is placed in the ground. Afterwards, there is a time where all the friends, family, or church members have brought food, and the family and friends are expected to stay and eat together.
When babies are born, we also do things differently. In America, before the baby is born, usually, there is a baby shower. Churches love to give baby showers. All the friends and family have an opportunity to bring a gift for the baby. They bring clothes, toys, diapers, bottles, etc. They don’t do that in S. Korea, but they have another nice tradition. When the baby reaches 2 years old in Korean age (a year old in American age), they have a big party. It is not a baby party, but it is for the baby. The party is usually a catered party given by the parents for their friends. They all come together to celebrate the baby. There are pictures everywhere of the baby. They may have a video presentation telling how the parents got together, and then endless baby pictures of the baby growing. They play games with the baby at the center of the game, and give out lots of prizes to the guests. The parents and the baby are dressed in traditional Korean clothing. I was told they began the traditional back when more babies died in infancy than die today, and they have just always continued it through the years celebrating that this baby is going to live!
As you can see, on the surface, the Koreans look a lot like Americans, but if you really get into the basic things of the culture, there are different traditions for birthdays, weddings, babies, and deaths. The younger S. Koreans are learning a lot when they study English and travel abroad. They like the American traditions, and they add what they like to their own ways of doing things. They keep the old and add new meaningful or fun things from other countries. The S. Korean culture is growing. If you talk to an older S. Korean, they were married through an arranged marriage, but the younger generation are learning to date more like people from the west. It doesn’t mean they still don’t have arranged marriages. Some would rather do that. Being matched up by a computer is also another new way. It is normal for a young S. Korean to be set up on a blind date by someone they know and trust. S, Korea is changing, but they are also keeping the old traditional ways. The changes make it look like there are more similarities on the surface than there are underneath.