Sunday, July 10, 2011

Koreans get younger and I get older

"How old are you?" was something I considered a pretty basic question when I was an English teacher. However, when I came back to Perth and starting asking this question to Korean students, I discovered it could actually be quite complicated. I remember the first time it happened to me that my students were asking each other about their ages, and I heard a Korean girl look at her partner wearily and ask "Korean age or Australian age?"

With some of my favourite (and craziest) Korean students
I had no idea what she meant, but then she and a few other Korean classmates explained the story. It seems the system for counting your age in Korea is rather different to ours. When you're born in Korea, you're one year old. That's just how they count it - although some people say that the gestation period counts as the one year, in fact that's not really the reason. And then when January 1 rolls round, everybody in Korea adds another year to their age.

Say you are born in October in Korea - you're already one year old. Come January, you turn two - by our reckoning, you'd be just a few months old, but Koreans are two already. That means that Koreans might be one or two years "older" when they talk of their Korean age - and they love coming to a Western country and getting younger!

Of course the bad thing is that if the rest of us go to Korea and want to explain our age in their terms, we get older. This is Very Bad News. Not quite enough to make me never go to Korea again but certainly enough to lie about my year of birth when I get there!


  1. That is really cool. My dad lived in Korea for two years before I was born, so I suppose I need to sit down with him and find out these little gems. I would love to take him back someday :)

  2. Yes, I bet he knows lots of cultural quirks from two years there - Koreans are fascinating (and lovely)! And it's a great place to travel to, I've only spent a week there but will definitely go back (but I'll lie about my age!!)

  3. That´s quite interesting, never heard of such a system to count your age.

  4. wow... that is fascinating! I love being reminded that my narrow little cultural view is not all there is to the world!

  5. Yeah. . . One of Korea's less endearing traits.


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