What do you think is unique about your culture? I never really stopped to consider how my Canadian cultures and traditions are different from other places in the world. Canada is pretty multicultural and so I always lived surrounded by a melange of different people from different places. The difference was they were all living like me and following the same pop culture. They all spoke English (at least a basic amount). This of course was until I traveled the world, moved to a foreign country and got married there. I encountered so much diversity in the countries I have visited. My husband and I have occasionally argued about cultural differences and sometimes even had misunderstandings due to slang. So many things that I never had to think about and just came naturally were foreign to him. Like how do you know that WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS YELLING? You just know. (Ya that one he didn’t)
So one of the very unique cultures here in South Korea is how they celebrate life. Here you are probably one or two years older than your western age. Let me explain. This country is very pro life. Abortions are illegal and age starts getting counted when you are in your mother’s womb. Therefore, when you are born you start with the number 1. As well, age is marked by the year. In January, everyone gets one year older.
Here are some examples:
Baby A is born on Dec.31 2013 today she would be 5
Baby B is born on Jan.1st 2014 today she would be 4
Even though these two babies are only born 1 day apart, they are a year apart.
I was born on October 24th, 1988 today I am 30. On October 25th I will still be 30. So depending on what month you are born in the year, you might be up to 2 years older in Korea. I was not thrilled to find this out moving here. Especially since this year I am 30 here and back in Canada I am still 28 until October. Anyone born in the same year as you is the same age as you and called a friend. This has to do with the different levels of speaking for younger / older people too. Anyone older has to be spoken to with the respectful form of the language and anyone younger can be spoken to with causal language. Often instead of getting asked how old you are here, people just ask “What year?” Sounds confusing and strange right? Not if you are Korean. It is just how things are here and everyone just knows it.
On that note, another cultural rarity here is celebrating the 100th day after birth. I guess this dates back to when babies didn’t have a high survival rate in their first few months and people would wait until they were a bit older to celebrate with them. It could be compared to a sweet sixteen or quinceanera that is celebrated in some countries / cultures but not others.
So on the 100th day traditionally there is a lot of food offered and a ceremony that people throw for the baby. For example people bring rice cakes which supposedly bring good fortune and happiness and wear traditional hanbok clothing. I am not too educated in these customs because my husband and I celebrated in modern fashion. We did a photoshoot. (The baby’s first birthday is a huge celebration here too and the pictures are taken to display at that party). We rented one of the decorative tables which upholds the bare minimum of the traditional style and set it up in our home. Honestly to me it just looked like a bunch of random objects but this is tradition here. Often people even go to a studio or traditional house for this photoshoot and hire a professional photographer but my husband and I thought we could handle it on our own and save some $$.
The thing is your baby has to sit in a chair in the middle of the table for the pictures. The problem is that most babies at 100 days of age do not have the upper body / neck strength to do so. Therefore, a lot of parents wait until the baby is around 130 days to do the party / shoot. So on her actual 100 day birthday we bought a cake and sang for her and two weeks later we did the shoot. It was actually a lot of fun and a lot of work. I learned that my husband actually takes pretty great pictures and that getting our little princess to look at the camera when no one is standing behind it (we had to use the timer and my husband ran into the shot to get all 3 of us in) is extremely difficult. Not to mention with her torticollis it was hard to get a non tilty picture. But overall we are happy with the pictures. Tera got to wear her first little princess dress (we wanted to do the traditional clothing but ran out of time to get it tailored), we have some family pictures and they are lovely.
For those of you who do not know me, I used to be a professional model. Oh how things have changed. I was unable to hide my happiness and am smiling so big in most of the pictures that you can’t even see my eyes. I was completely oblivious to how I looked. When I look at the pictures I can’t believe it is me. I look like a mom. Which is fitting now I guess. Which is nice.
There are actually so many other cultural challenges that I want to write about but I will save those for another day. Today I am exhaused. My mother in law and my husband’s older sister and his family came to spend the day with us today which was great (seriously not being sarcastic today, I am sooooo lucky that these people are so kind to me and it is a joy to have them stop by) BUT I decided to make a big home cooked lunch including a roasted chicken and desserts from scratch (I even made my own salad dressing today – yes mom be proud) so I am tired. So I am stopping typing now.