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This entry is inspired by something I read on Casterra Ya’s blog last night.  When you have time, you should check out some of the Korean Fun Facts that are posted.  If you know a lot of Korean people, you may be confused about how old they really are.  For instance, someone may be 19 in Korea, but 17 in another country.  Why is this?  And why is age important to Korean people?  Let’s take a look.

Age Is More Than a Number

In Korean society, the way you speak to people is based on your age and their age.  If a person is older than  you by a number of years, you will speak very formal Korean to them.  If they are younger than you by a few years, you will speak less formal Korean to them.  If you are about the same age, you will speak general Korean to them.  This is why knowing someones age is important.  For example, if someone in their 20’s greeted a person in their 60’s by saying 안녕 instead of 안녕하세요, it would be looked at as the younger person being disrespectful.  So don’t be offended if a Korean person ask you how old you are.  It is their way of knowing how much respect to show you.

When Life Begins in Korea

In Korea, life starts at the time of conception.  This is a reason why abortion is not legal in Korea.  Even though a baby is in the womb for 9 months, a baby is considered to be 1 years old at the time of their birth.  Also, on January 1st, the whole nation turns 1 year older together.  So if a baby is born around that time, they could be considered 2 years old at the time of their birth.  This system of counting the start of life is what is used to figure out someone’s Korean age.  International age is the age system that starts on the day a baby comes out of the womb.  This is why your age in Korea will be different than your age in many western countries.

What Year Are You?

Sometimes, younger Korean Americans get confused about the difference between Korean age and International age.  A situation where knowing the difference between the is vital is dating.  Say a Korean American man who is 20, meets a Korean woman who just arrived from Korea with her family.  She may say that she is 18, but that could be her Korean age.  Her International age may be 16.  Knowing what her age is would be very important in this situation.  So if there is confusing about a persons age, some Korean Americans will simply ask, what year are you?  This is a way of asking what year your were born in.  They can then calculate your age according to whatever system they are using to see what the age difference is.

Hopefully this helps you to see the difference between the age system of Korean and other countries.  And hopefully it helps you to see that a Korean person is not being rude if they ask you for your age.  Do you have any interesting stories about being asked your age by a Korean person?  If so, please feel free to share.  Thanks again for reading my blogs.  And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.