From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."



Last night, as I was waiting for the bus and enjoying my chicken in a cup, I witnessed “Romeo and Juliet” before they parted. I’m not talking about thespians staging a Shakespearean play; I’m referring to a young couple sitting beside me at the bus stop. At first, I thought it was “cute” and “sweet” how they showed their love by holding hands as they were perched closely together like a pair of love birds, and every now and then, looking at each other’s eyes with such intimacy that is familiar to someone like me who “has been there”, and “is still madly in love” with the same man I held hands and locked eyes with eight years ago. The young couple’s mawkish display of affection reminded me of those times when my husband and I were boyfriend-girlfriend. Aaah~~~ those “kilig” days never fail to make me smile every time I remember them. ^^

I wasn’t staring, don’t get me wrong, but I was sitting beside them, so I couldn’t help but notice what they were doing. I wasn’t eavesdropping either, but I could hear and understand SOME of what they were talking about. (I’m not that poor in Korean, after all. ^^) They are to meet again on the weekend, and the girl says CALL ME, CALL ME, CALL ME… I WILL MISS YOU… BLAH-BLAH-BLAH.

Then I heard a smack… and the boy tells the girl that the bus is coming. He asks for another 뽀뽀 (Ppoppo: Korean for kiss). The girl gives it to him… and he asks for more… and they started exchanging kisses. What the??? I would have been less surprised if they were kissing in a  클럽 (club or disco bar) or  나이트 (Night: Konglish for booking club) or in a dark alley that I happen to pass by… but at the bus stop in evening rush hour? They were not french kissing or anything like that, but they were smooching like there’s no tomorrow… in public, and I was not the only one to witness it! The ajumma next to me was blatantly staring at them, and as expected, she didn’t look pleased. There were ten or more people present that time. I’m not sure if others saw what the young lovers were doing. They were sitting in the corner of the shed. A few curious commuters, waiting for their ride, threw side-glances at them. Others were perhaps oblivious of the young couple’s public display of affection, because they were busy minding their own business.

Finally, the bus came, and our “Romeo and Juliet” had to part. If you think the kissing was over, they were just warming up. The couple stood up and kissed again… the intimacy of the kiss subdued this time… but the girl’s arms were wrapped around the boy’s neck… just like a Koreanovela scene. The boy got on the bus and the girl left in haste, perhaps  aware of the glares being thrown at her.

I have read an article that says PDA is not common in South Korea, because of the conservative nature of Koreans. Duh! If you ask me, having lived here for quite some time now and being married to a man who is (also) showy of his affection, I say that PDA  is VERY COMMON in SK. You can see it anywhere–in subway stations and bus stops; in bars, hoffs, cafes, restaurants; on the streets; in the malls and parks… couples holding hands, hugging, exchanging pecks on the cheeks or lips, caressing each other’s faces. Usually, it’s either holding hands or hugging, which I think is not an excessive display of intimacy, but there are those who are not satisfied with simple ways to show their affection.

Last night was not the first time I have seen couples smooching in public. The first time was at the same bus stop, and the lovers were much younger. I could tell, because they were wearing their high school uniform. Their kissing, however, was not as obvious as our Romeo and Juliet from last night, just a “cute” quick kiss. Of all the excessive PDA’s that I have witnessed so far, the worst has got to be that of an ajossi and an ajumma petting in a hoff. Well, they were both wasted.

My husband and I hold hands and hug, too, in front of his friends or other people… but NOT when there are older people around, especially his parents… and we are coy about kissing in public, except when we had our after-wedding party, and his friends persuaded us to kiss for a picture. We used to be teased a lot about showing too much “skinship” (Konglish for skin-to-skin contact: kissing not included), but now his friends got used to it.

A Korean friend warned us, though, that we should never express physical intimacy in front of my husband’s older relatives and my parents-in-law, as this is considered rude to the elders. Older Koreans won’t tolerate PDA, especially if it is extreme. Some of them would simply look dagger at you; some would curtly reprimand and embarrass you.

When my husband was still my boyfriend, and he would come to visit me in the house, he would not hold my hand nor embrace me when Mom was around. One time, we were in the living room watching TV and cuddling, and all of a sudden, Mom came to bring us some midnight snacks. My husband, who was then my fiancé, jumped out of his seat and acted really weird, as if we were caught red-handed making out, and he was expecting to be given a scolding. Mom noticed that he was embarrassed and told him to “relax”. After our church wedding and he had lived with us for months, he became more comfortable showing my family his “sweetness”, which Mom and the rest of the family members, even my conservative Grandma and uncles, “appreciate” rather than disapprove of. When we came to Korea and lived with his parents, we had to be more cautious in displaying our affection towards each other… even in our own home.

Six years ago, the first time I came to Korea, I didn’t see a lot of couples doing PDA. At times, I would see lovers holding hands while walking or snuggling as they sit on a park bench… simple romantic gestures that are not unsightly or awkward for other people to see. Nowadays, it seems as if some couples don’t know how to draw the line at showing physical affection in public. There is nothing wrong with showing the world your love for your partner, but as they say, “Too much of anything is not good.”

Holding hands, a mere hug and a quick goodbye kiss are now becoming prevalent, even in a country like South Korea that is bound by strict Confucian norms. Maybe in a few years’ time, PDA “in moderation” will be socially acceptable here in SK… but making out in public is a totally different thing.

Some things are best done in private, don’t you think? ^^

19 thoughts on “PDA in SK

  1. haha well then… THIS was unexpectedly refreshing. I thought the same way most of the other readers did: PDA in S.Korea is a definite no-no. Hmm, I guess I was wrong too. As for my experience here, in Canada, regarding Koreans and PDA, I can attest that they stick to each other “like glue” and “smooch away” whenever they find a chance. Actually, my fiance is more open-minded about PDA than I am, so our first kiss in public came out of the blue from his part and I walked the rest of the day giggling and blushing at every thought of it. OMG. Being conscious of the more conservative nature of Korean culture, I think I’d blush and giggle even more in Korea and yell “야 !! 하지 마세요~~~~ ! “… HAHAHA We shall see. Great blog btw 🙂


  2. Hi, Oegukeen. ^^ You should come here and see it for yourself. You’ll be surprised. =)


  3. My boyfriend also tells me there is no PDA in Korea. But when we are in Europe he acts all relaxed and cuddly, like a real European ^^
    I’m really looking forward to see how much PDA there really is in South Korea for myself. 🙂


  4. Right, Krizzy. When I came to SK 5 years ago, excessive PDA wasn’t that rampant. I stayed in the countryside for some time and then moved to different cities, too, but I have noticed couples who were only holding hands or hugging… but when I came back here, I was surprised to see couples kissing in public… even petting! There’s nothing wrong with PDA if you and your BF or betterhalf are really “sweet” or “expressive” of your feelings… but TOO MUCH is just plain annoying.

    If only I could say “Get a room” in Korean, I would say the same thing your husband tells them.


  5. I definitely agree.. I could see a lot of PDA among young Koreans but I’m not very much disturb with that since I’ve seen a lot in other countries, too. My husband is pretty bothered with it and he tells them to ‘Get a Room’ whenever we pass by one.. I think it’s ironic that a conservative country like Korea is adapting very liberated culture so fast these days..


  6. Pingback: Korean Gender Reader: Slutwalk Tomorrow! | The Grand Narrative

  7. Whoa! This is the first time I have seen this ad. I think it isn’t appropriate for a food commercial.


  8. This (Korean) advertisement is the most explicit (food) ad I’ve seen.


  9. Ha, ha! Para ka palang husband ko, addict sa Korean drama. ^^

    Thanks for finding the blog interesting, Eun Hee.

    Ako naman gusto ko both… hug and kiss… wag lang “too much” of it in public… baka mapagsabihan ng ajumma… ㅋㅋㅋ ^^


  10. I prefer than HUG than a kiss 😉 Nice article! Been a fan of your blog months ago since adik ako sa koreanovela hehe


  11. There are always pros and cons to everything… even PDA. ^^

    I have to agree with what you said… that couples here in SK are “different”, especially young couples. I wonder if they’re really in love when you see them doing “excessive” PDA, or they’re just showing off as if to say, “Hey, I’m young and free, and I’m not afraid to do anything.”


  12. Sometimes the PDA here , in Korea…really gets to me. I feel like so much of it is superficial. When I talk to my adult students about their boyfriends and girlfriends so many of them say that they are with them because it is better than being single. Then, I watch the way that some of them treat their significant others (not everyone of course).
    It definitely gets some getting used to. I feel that the “coupledum” here is just different.
    I am very curious about how the cuteness of PDA when dating changes into men go out for soju and women go to coffee shops once they are married 🙂
    On the other hand, the PDA here has encouraged us to be more love with each other so 1 point to the young adults here in SOK!


  13. Oh, I’ve seen some of those commercials in Youtube. Some are from America, some from European countries. They’re labeled as banned commercials. =)


  14. Agree with you Chris! Too much PDA is EEWWW! I don’t know what TV is like where you are, but in America, they use sex even to sell food. It’s food porn.



  15. Thank you, Stephanie. ^^ I think there’s nothing wrong with a little “skinship”, if you really can’t help it. (When a couple is madly in-love, it’s kinda hard to shun PDA, right?)… but like you said, it’s better not to show even the slightest form of PDA when the “parents” are around. “The folks” are not as tolerant as “the friends”. =)


  16. Great post! I would have thought there’d be very little PDA in Korea since they are very traditional. My Korean boyfriend and I are like that in front of parents too – no skin ship and def no kissing or anything, haha! I think holding hands or hugging (but not groping) in public is okay, but anything too overboard should stay in the bedroom or in private!! :p

    But great post!!! So informative! 🙂


  17. Deym, natatandaan ko na… ikaw nga ung nag-post sa FB about a couple doing PDA. Hindi naman ata excessive ang PDA na ginagawa nila, based sa na-mention mo. ^^ May PDA na “cute” and nakaka-kilig pag nakita mo… meron naman nakaka-imbiyerna. =)


  18. Kung simpleng holding hands lang naman or hug or a single quick kiss, for me, ok lang. May mga couples na “sweet” talaga sa isa’t-isa and di maiwasan ang PDA… (parang ikaw and your hubby, and ako and my hubby… LOL ^^) pero ung “smooching”, “groping”, “petting” much better done in private, diba?


  19. Wohoo! I dont know if you still remember or you noticed,around 3months ago,I wrote a fb status about the lovers who happens to sit beside me on a bus stop and suddenly they do french kissing as if nobody is around…

    I didnt know that bus stops has its cosy ambience which makes lovers to just kiss like no tomorrow. Hahaha

    whenever I see couplea doing PDA I always say; “Maghihiwalay din kau.” or “lets see if you can still do that after having three kids” Pero in my case,my hubs still hold my hands in public,guide me while walking or crossing the street or walks beside me kahit may 3piglets na kami. Its still PDA right??

    Well,lets see if ganun padin after 10years 😉 lol


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