Traditionally in Korea, the typical family size is quite
large, with three
or four generations usually living together under the same roof. Because infant
mortality was high and a big family was thought of as a blessing,
having many children was the desired option. However, as the
country underwent rapid industrialization
and urbanization during the 1960s and 1970s the pattern was
accompanied by an effective birth control drive, and the average
number of children in a family dramatically decreased
to two or less in the 1980s.
Having a long Confucian tradition under which the eldest son
takes over as head of the family, many Korean families preferred
having a son. To tackle the problem of male preference,
the government has completely rewritten family-related laws
in a way that ensures equality for sons and daughters in terms
Industrialization of the country has made life more hectic and
complicated. Young married couples have begun to separate from
their extended families and start their own homes. Now almost
all families are couple-centered nuclear families.
The majority of Koreans have family names within one of a small
set: Kim (about 21% of all Koreans), Yi (or Lee or Rhee, 14%),
Park (or Pak, 8%), Choi (or Choe), Jeong (or Chung), Jang
Han, Lim, etc. A Korean name consists of a family name, in almost
every case one syllable, plus a given name usually of two syllables.
The family name comes first. A Korean woman does not take her
husband's family name, but their children take their father's
Koreans think marriage is the most important passage in one's
life and a divorce is regarded as a disgrace not only for the
couple but also for their families ― still the divorce
rate is growing rapidly these days.
Today's typical wedding ceremony is somewhat different from
what it was in old times: first a Western-style ceremony is
usually held at a wedding hall or a church with the bride wearing
a white dress and the groom wearing a tuxedo, then later in
the day the bride and groom have a traditional ceremony at a
different room in the venue, in colorful traditional costumes.
Jerye(Ancestral Memorial Rite)
According to traditional Korean beliefs, when people die, their
spirits do not immediately depart; they stay with their descendants
for four generations. During this period the deceased are still
regarded as family members, and Koreans reaffirm the relationship
between ancestors and descendants through jerye on special
days like Sollal (Lunar New Year's Day) and Chuseok (Korean
Thanksgiving Day), as well as on the anniversary of their ancestors'
passing. Koreans also believe that people can live well
and happily thanks to benefits their ancestors bestow upon them.
When you beckon to a person, do so with your palm down, and then
flutter your hand up and down with your fingers touching together.
It is not polite to beckon with your palm up ― especially using
only one finger, because Koreans do that only to dogs.
Traditional Korean rooms have multiple functions. Rooms are
not labeled or reserved for a specific purpose; there is no
definite bedroom or dining room for example. Rather, tables
and mats are brought in as needed. Most people sit and sleep
on the floor on thick mats.
Underneath the floors are stone or concrete flues. Traditionally
hot air was vented through the flues to provide heat. Clay or
cement would be placed over the stones to protect the residents
from noxious gasses. This type of under floor heating is called
Nowadays hot water is piped through cement floors covered with
A diverse array of food and dishes can be found throughout
Korea was once primarily an agricultural nation, cultivating rice as their staple food since ancient times. These
days Korean cuisine is characterized by a wide variety of meat
and fish dishes along with wild greens and vegetables. Various
fermented and preserved food, such as kimchi (fermented spicy
cabbage), jeotgal (matured seafood with salt) and doenjang (fermented
soy bean paste) are notable for their specific flavor and high
The prominent feature of a Korean table setting is that all
dishes are served at the same time. Traditionally, the number
of side dishes varied from 3 for the lower classes to 12 for
royal family members. Table arrangements can vary depending
on whether a noodle dish or meat is served. Formal rules have
developed for table setting, demonstrating the attention people
pay to food and dining. Compared to neighboring China and Japan,
a spoon is used more often in Korea, especially when soups are
Gimjang is the age-old Korean practice of preparing winter kimchi,
which has been passed down from generation to generation. Since
very few vegetables are grown in the three or four winter months,
gimjang takes place in early winter and provides what has become
a staple food for Koreans. For Koreans, a dinner table without
kimchi is unthinkable.
Traditional Korean Clothing (Hanbok)
The hanbok has been the Korean people's unique traditional costume
for thousands of years. The beauty and grace of Korean culture
can be seen in photographs of women dressed in the hanbok.
Before the arrival of Western-style clothing one hundred years
ago, the hanbok was worn as everyday attire. Men wore jeogori (Korean
jackets) with baji (trousers) while women wore jeogori with chima
(skirt). Today, the hanbok is worn on days of celebration such
as weddings, Seollal (Lunar New Year's Day) or Chuseok (Korean
Traditional Korean Houses
A traditional Korean house is called hanok. Hanok sought to
create a living space based on the coexistence of nature and
humans. Accordingly, the natural aspects of traditional Korean
houses range from the structure's inner layout to the building
materials which were used. Another unique feature of traditional
houses is their special design for cooling the interior in the
summer and heating the interior in the winter. Since Korea has
such hot summers and cold winters, the ondol gudeul, a floor-based
heating system and daecheong, a cool wooden-floor style hall,
were devised long ago to help Koreans survive the frigid winters
and to make the sweltering and humid summers bearable. These
primitive types of heating and air-conditioning were so effective
that they are still in use in many homes today.