Sat. Jun 3rd, 2023

In many societies, asking one’s age in the opening remarks of a first meeting is considered highly impolite, but in South Korea, one of the first questions people ask when meeting people includes asking one’s age. But why so?

'Hello, how are you, how old are you?'
‘Hello, how are you, how old are you?’


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You may often hear that age is just a number, but in South Korea it is more than just a number. When you meet someone in South Korea, one of the first words is likely to be a question about your age. Why is it so important for people in South Korea to know someone’s age?

People in South Korea are very curious about age. According to South Korean tradition, a South Korean child is one year old at birth, and no matter what day one’s birthday falls on, all residents collectively age one year on New Year’s Eve.

South Koreans have adopted the international age system since 1962 for many legal and administrative reasons, but use the ‘calendar year’ when it comes to the legal age for drinking or smoking or for military service. Under which the year of birth is subtracted from the current year.

The existence of different age systems in the same country sometimes creates a situation, which reinforces the ambiguity. For example, Omar kept things unclear in South Korea for a vaccine during the coronavirus outbreak. However, officials say all these uncertainties will end from June 2023, as the country will use only the international age system for all official matters.

While many people in South Korea are happy about the change as it will reduce their lifespan by a year or two, many people breathed a sigh of relief at the news.

“The Korean age system is so complicated that it’s confusing even to Koreans themselves,” South Korean citizen Sophie Choi told DW.

So for many people, age is definitely a number, but in Korea it is not something to be taken lightly. Choi, who is Thai herself but became part of a Korean family after marriage, says that once she told her daughter to go out and play with her ‘friend’, my mother-in-law corrected me saying that she The girl is older than your girl. The issue is so sensitive that in South Korea you can even hear twins arguing about who is older.

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