Korean age culture

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Many of us think that asking someone age before we getting close is really rude, especially for woman. However, in Korea, the first thing korean might want to know when they meet you is your age. This is because they want to address you according to your age. As many of you know that there are varied level of politeness in korean language, that’s why korean want to know your age even at the first meeting.

However, when you tell them about your age, you might see that they state a higher number than your actual age or inform you that you are older in korean age.

Why korean age is different? This is because of Korean age system is different from the international age. So when you watch in K-drama or K-news someone is telling their age in korean, you should know that their international age is different.

For example:

My birthday is May 16, 1991, What is my Korean age?

  • In Korean age, I am 30 years old from January 1st until December 31st, 2020.
  • In international age, I am 29 years old after May 16th 2020, my birthday.

International Age and Korean Age

  • In Korea, you are born one years of age.

Many of us consider newborn babies to be ‘zero’ upon birth. However, koreans actually calculate the time babies spend in their mother’s womb as a ‘year’ (although, technically, it is 9 months, they round it up to one year), so when babies are born in Korea, they are considered to be 한 살(han sal)=”one year old”. This automatically adds one year to the age that you may be used to. 

  • In Korea, you increase your age count on January 1st of every year, not on your birthday.

Koreans automatically gain a year on January 1st, regardless of whether their birthday has passed or not. In simple, International Age measures how long you have lived while Korean Age measures how many years you have experienced.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Korean age system is only a cultural thing. So, in order to avoid confusion while doing corporate or international business, official documents such as a passport or a birth certificate, everyone in Korea will use their international age.

Counting my Korean Age

  • Add 1 to the current year, then subtract the year of your birth, and you will get your Korean age.

For example, If you were born in 1990 and wanted to calculate your age in 2020: 2020 + 1 – 1990 = 31 (Korean Age)

  • You can also Follow this methods:

If your birthday has passed, then just put your age + 1 = Korean Age
If your birthday hasn’t passed yet, then put your Age + 2 = Korean Age

address politely

After you know that person’s age, you want to address them accordingly, especially if they are older than you. Here are the list you can use when you realize they’re older than you.

If you are female and realize the person you’re talking with is older than you, then use this:

  • 오빠 (oppa) = older brother
  • 언니 (eonni) = older sister

If you are male and realize the person you’re talking with is older than you, then use this instead:

  • 누나(nuna) = older brother
  • 형 (hyeong) = older sister

However, if you realize that the person you are talking with are actually same age or even younger than you, please take initiative to use Ban-Mal or informal Korean language, as it will be really awkward for an older person to talk formally to a younger close person.

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