9 Korean superstitions you might not have known about

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Korea is a modern, technological country that has nevertheless remained very attached to traditions – including superstitions (미신, misin). Even if many Koreans claim not to believe in them, they still continue to do or not do certain actions out of superstition so as not to invoke bad luck. More keenly felt by the elderly population, they continue to be observed by younger people as well. Let’s take a look in this article at the most common Korean superstitions.

1. Avoid the number 4

As some of you may already know, the number 4 is absolutely to be avoided because it evokes the idea of death. The pronunciation of the number 4 in Sino-Korean numerals has the same pronunciation as the hanja indicating death (both 사, sa).

You might find it hard to find the button corresponding to the fourth floor in Korean lifts: it is often replaced by an F button(in some buildings, you will still find the fourth floor written as 4th floor), which stands for fourth floor

2. Don’t feed your partner chicken wings

Among the most curious Korean superstitions is the one that recommends not serving your partner chicken wings. This would mean that they will fly away, fluttering from one guy or girl to another. So if you are planning to prepare a romantic dinner, remember to exclude chicken wings, just in case!

3. Don’t write the names of living people in red

Writing the name of a living person in red would be tantamount to wishing them dead. This is because especially in the past and during some traditional rituals (like Chuseok), the names of the deceased were written in red. 

The idea that links red ink to death has remained. So if you don’t have pens in other colors, avoid writing the names of your Korean friends or they might not take it well!

4. Only move on certain days of the month

In order to prevent evil spirits from following them when moving house, many Koreans prefer to move during particular days of the calendar called soni eobneun nal (손이 없는 날), i.e. ‘spirit-free days’. This superstition is still so deeply felt that during those days the costs of moving companies are much higher than on other days.

If you have enquired about moving house in Korea and noticed a seemingly inexplicable price difference depending on which day you chose, now you know why! If you are not easily swayed by Korean superstitions, we therefore advise you to choose the cheapest day… but do so at your own risk!

5. Don’t shake your legs

Many of us have the bad habit of shaking one or both legs while sitting. According to the Koreans(or Asian culture in general) shaking your legs indicates that we are ‘shaking’ good fortune away from us, instead summoning bad luck. Better therefore to remain still

6. Do not give knives as gifts

This superstition can also be found in other countries as well and recommends not to give knives as a gift, otherwise it would be like wishing that person to cut all ties with you. Therefore only give a knife or other sharp objects if you don’t want to deal with that person anymore.

superstizioni coreane

7. Do not ‘stick’ the spoon into the rice

Serving a bowl of rice with a spoon ‘stuck’ into the bowl conjures up the image of a dagger stuck into a body and thus, by extension, the image of death. It is therefore impolite to serve rice to someone in this way because it would appear that one is wishing them death. Moreover, rice bowls with a spoon stuck into them in this way are often found on tables in rituals celebrating the dead, thus reinforcing the link they have with the idea of death. This rule also applies to chopsticks.

8. Don’t whistle at night

Whistling in the street at night, apart from possibly disturbing other people, should not be done for another reason. It would be a call to evil spirits and therefore, if you do not want to be haunted, you should avoid whistling.

9. Don’t touch your eyes after touching a butterfly

Probably no one would ever think of touching the wings of a butterfly and then touching their eyes, but if they did, according to this Korean superstition, the consequences of doing so would be very serious: it would lead to blindness. So if you don’t want to lose your sight, beware of touching butterflies and running your fingers over your eyes immediately afterwards.

These are just some of the existing Korean superstitions. There are many more, but in this article we have listed the best known. For more on Korean culture, keep following the Go! Go! Hanguk blog and do not hesitate to contact us about living and studying in Korea.

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