Superstitions are widely held and often irrational beliefs about things such as luck, prophecy or spiritual beings. They appear across different cultures; just think of a few popular ones in Canada such as “don’t walk under a ladder” and the old “lucky pennies” but have you heard of these South Korean superstitions?
Korean culture is very competitive so doing well in school is very important. Students will do everything in their power to do well on their exams, often studying long hours. As a result, there are several superstitions about what to do and not do before your exams. Here are a few of my favourites:
Seaweed soup: Don’t eat seaweed soup before your exams. The slippery texture of the food will cause all of the information to slip out of your brain.
No shampoo: Don’t wash your hair the night before an exam because if you do you will wash out everything you studied. All of your hard work will literally go down the drain!
Yeot (엿): Do eat yeot, a Korean traditional taffy. This taffy is a popular gift given to students who are going to be taking an important exam. This is probably due to the word yeot coming from the Korean word meaning “to stick” which also has the meaning “to pass” as in pass an exam.
S: Korea Expose
The use of chopsticks goes back to the Baekjae period and are still the popular utensil in present day Korea, so naturally there are a few superstitions around the use of them.
Marriage: The closer to the tip that you hold your chopsticks the longer you will remain unmarried
Table manners: When eating in Korea don’t stick your chopsticks in your rice bowl because it resembles the burning of incense done at memorial services. Also, while eating it is bad luck to hold your utensils in both hands (spoon and chopsticks). Although this superstition probably originated from parents who wanted their children to have better table manners.
Deoksugung path is a beautiful path in Seoul that runs next to Deoksugung Palace. In the past it was a regular road but today it is just for pedestrians. This path may be picturesque but don’t take your date to this spot! It is said that couples who walk down this path together will soon breakup. This is because Deoksugung path was the path couples would walk on their way to the divorce court.
S: Visit Korea
You won’t have much use for your red pens in South Korea. There, if you write someone’s name in red ink, it means you wish bad luck on them or even death. This is probably because the colour red is associated with death and red ink is used to record a deceased person’s name in the family register.
FANS AT NIGHT
This superstition is probably one of the most famous Korean superstitions among foreigners. In Korea, it is believed that you shouldn’t sleep with a fan on in a closed off room because it could cause you to die! This is why if you buy a fan in South Korea, it comes with a built in timer so that the fan will automatically turn off while you sleep.
THE NUMBER 4
Superstitions around the number 4 in Korea are similar to the negative perceptions of the number 13 in Canada. The number 4 is considered bad luck because it is associated with death. This is because the number 4 written in Chinese as 四 is pronounced “sa” (same pronunciation for 4 in Korean). The Chinese character for death is written as 死 which is also pronounced “sa”.
Due to this superstition older buildings in Korea will have the 4th floor marked as “F” or skipped all together. Apartments with the number 4 are also usually lower value!
Fun fact: this superstition is shared by China and Japan.
S: Asia Exchange
There are a few popular superstitions in Korea about bad spirits. Here are a few:
Whistling: Don’t whistle at night in Korea, as it may call over spirits! Although, singing as you pass a cemetery can protect you from evil spirits.
Dirty house: In South Korea, people don’t clean their houses before they move. This tradition came from the superstition that if you clean your house before you move, the bad spirits in your house will follow you. Leaving the house dirty tricks the spirits into thinking you haven’t moved so they won’t follow you.
DON’T GIVE YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER THESE GIFTS!
Shoes: Don’t give your significant other shoes because there is a superstition that this gift may cause them to run away from you!
Chicken wings: A wife shouldn’t give her husband chicken wings for a similar reason as shoes. The chicken wings may cause him to “take flight” and cheat on her.
There are many South Korean superstitions that I have omitted but these were a few of my favourites. While these superstitions may be well-known, nowadays many are more of a tradition for many than actual beliefs but you may recognize a few of these if you are an avid Kdrama watcher!
Sources: 10mag, dramafever, Visit Seoul Net, My Korean language professor