Hand Gestures and Physical Contact in Korea

Keith Kim, former teacher at KoreanClass101.com and recently launched a new site dedicated to life in Korea, social tips, etc at Seoulistic.com. For folks wanting to learn more about Korea, this is a nice complement to TTMIK, which focuses on language. TTMIK is the place to go for language, Seoulistic is the place to go for social tips. You usually need both to succeed in a foreign country and make friends. 😉

Anyhow, Keith and his charming assistant Min Songa have put out several videos and I wanted to point out a couple of them. The first compares American and Korean hand-gestures:

Keith does the American versions, and Songa does the Korean ones of course. Some of these I already knew (for example “come” or “money”), but some I have seen but didn’t really get the meaning. But it’s really interesting how both cultures have evolved different hand-gestures to express the same (read: universal) things.

Another really good video that is somewhat related is the notion of physical contact in Korea:

Watching this was interesting because I’ve seen many of hte same customs in Japan as well: touching/kissing the opposite sex is kept to a real minimum, but touching the same-sex is a lot more common than in the US.

When I met my wife, it took me some time to adapt to that, because I grew up being very expressive toward the opposite-sex, but this would sometimes make wife uncomfortable since she’s from Japan. Over time, we’ve kind of adapted to each other, so we’ve reach a kind of “halfway point” between our cultures. :)

In any case, seeing this videos reminds of a famous Hosso (Yogacara) Buddhist poem I mentioned here:

At the clapping of hands,
The carp come swimming for food;
The birds fly away in fright, and
A maiden comes carrying tea —
Sarusawa Pond. (trans. A. Charles Muller)

The same gesture can take on many meanings depending who perceives it, and under what context.

Interesting how life works. :)

P.S. If you like the Seoulistic videos, I also recommend this one on why there are so many Koreans with surnames like Kim, Park and Lee.

About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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