From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

An Open Letter to Newbie Myeonuris on Seollal

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(Photo from aigooyobo)

Dear Newbie Myeonuri,

               You must be feeling nervous, uncertain of what tomorrow is going to be like. You’ve probably heard from other myeonuris what a pain in the arse Chuseok and Seollal are for us married women in Korea. I’ve been a myeonuri for eight years now, and let me confirm what you’ve heard from the others… sorry to break it to you, but you’re not going to have a ball tomorrow. You’re going to wish you had the ability to teleport, so you could be somewhere else… not in the kitchen, enslaved by incessant housework a.k.a. myeonuri duties. I’ve been there, and I survived it. I don’t loathe Chuseok and Seollal as much as I used to. You’ll survive it, too. Just think of it as another gloomy day of your life that shall soon pass. You might feel like you’re wasting a decade of your existence every time piles of dishes are being brought to the sink, but there will be an end to it. Your hands might go numb from cooking jeon and preheating food from breakfast until dinnertime, but don’t you worry, the numbness will fade away with some mentholatum lotion that you can purchase from any drugstore. You’d better buy it now, and remind your husband not to get too drunk on Seollal, so he can give you a well-deserved massage when all the work is over. You might sulk over the bogus machismo you’ll witness and question why men get to enjoy the day while women do all the work, but remember… every country has its own culture. You married into this culture when you married your man. You might not like tomorrow’s experience at all, but believe me, you’ll get used to it. As time goes by, your workload will be lessened. Just pray that a new myeonuri will come and that she won’t be your senior. No matter how overworked (and annoyed) you are tomorrow, keep smiling. You’re not alone in this battle. If you can, be nice… be polite to everyone… even to your husband’s most annoying family member.

Don’t throw your wrath at your husband for letting you toil the whole day. Talk to him today, and urge him to help you when work seems too much. When Seollal is over, do something for yourself. Take a rest, go shopping, treat yourself to the spa… make it your day! ^^

Good luck! Myeonuri, fighting!

Lots of hugs,

From a fellow myeonuri

Note from the author:

Before this letter gets negative reactions from myeonuris who claim that they have an awesome life and are not subjected to any distressing housework on Chuseok and Seollal, let me reiterate what I have mentioned in my previous posts (one in particular that was shared in an expat group without my permission and wasn’t received well by other readers: Things You Should Never ever Say or Do When Your Korean Parents-in-law Are Around)… not all myeonuris go through the experiences I have described in this letter. Not all families in Korea follow the antediluvian tradition of enslaving women to housework during family gatherings. Nowadays, more and more families practice equality in their households. Many younger Korean men help around the house. My husband and my brothers-in-law are some of them… but my husband’s older family members and a number of families I know still have a long way to go.



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Things You Can Do to Make Your In-laws Happy on Parents’ Day

Tomorrow is a special day for moms and dads in Korea, because May 8 is Parents’ Day (어버이날). It has been part of Korean tradition to give parents carnation on this occasion as symbol of respect and gratitude. For five years, my husband and I have been doing the same thing: we wake up early in the morning to pin carnation boutonnieres on his parents’ shirts, which they wear with pride the whole day. In the evening, we have dinner with the family. Perhaps, as a myonuri  (며느리: daughter-in-law), you do the same thing for your Korean parents-in-law every year, but if you’d like to do something different for them this time, here are some of the other things you can do to make your parents-in-law truly happy.

1.) Prepare a special breakfast for them.


They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, this is also true with the in-laws. After all, there is nothing like the smell of a sumptuous meal in the morning. Try cooking your sibumonim‘s (시부모님: parents-in-law) favorite soup or stew, and prepare your best banchan (반찬: side dishes). Most Koreans eat rice for breakfast, complete with soup and some side dishes, so you can make a feast that will surely wow them when they wake up in the morning.

2.) Make them a card or write them a letter… in Korean.

The heart is missing one eye and the shimmer has faded... but the message of love remains. ^^

The heart is missing one eye and the shimmer has faded… but the message of love remains. ^^

I have never done this on Parents’ Day, but when I had my first Christmas with the in-laws, I made them a simple card, and posted it on their bedroom door, so it’s the first thing they would notice when they wake up in the morning. My father-in-law doesn’t like posters, calendars or anything plastered on walls and doors. He would remove them. That card, however, stays on their door. ^^

On Youtube, there are tons of how-to videos on making pop-up flower cards. This one is my favorite. It looks elegant and is easier to do.

This Mother’s Day card will make a great Parents’ Day card, too.

3.) Take them to a posh restaurant.

Most older Koreans prefer dining in Korean restaurants and in places that are familiar to them, but it won’t hurt to have them try other restaurants and different cuisines, so if you have budget for a real treat, why not surprise them with the best fine dining experience?

Try Lotte Hotel World’s La Seine Buffet. The food is fantastic!

4.) Go hiking with them.

Spring is the best time of the year to go hiking. A lot of older Koreans go to the mountain in spring to gather herbs and vegetables that are quite pricey in the market. Go ginseng-searching with your sibumonim on Parents’ Day. Who knows, you might actually enjoy the activity, and start doing it regularly? Hiking can be exciting… and it can also help shed off those extra pounds.

5.) Be “Cinderella” for a day.


My husband volunteered to help out with his parents’ business for the entire week. His parents are pleased, because this is a busy season. If your in-laws have a business you can help them with, and you have all the time in the world to spare, a day of doing extra work for them will mean a lot.

The extra work can also be a housechore that you haven’t done in a while, like cleaning your in-laws’ bedroom (or the entire house), helping your si omonim (시어머님: mother-in-law) with the laundry, ironing si abonim‘s (시아버님: father-in-law) favorite shirts, etc. Before you say, “I’m not a slave!”, remember that this suggestion is meant only for a day, Parents’ Day. That is, if you don’t live with the in-laws. Think about the myonuris who have to do these chores regularly, because they live with their sibumonim.

6.) Hold a noraebang (노래방: karaoke) concert with them.

And the battle begins... ^^

And the battle begins… ^^

If your in-laws are not the killjoy type, invite them to the noraebang for a night of party. Team up with your husband. Your in-laws and other family members who are present will pair up, too. Each pair will select a song and sing duet. Karaokes usually score singers. You can use those scores to choose the best team. Our family did this once, and everyone had a terrific time. In fact, my father-in-law didn’t want to go home. ^^

I am sure that there are a number of ways we can make Parents’ Day memorable for our in-laws, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is not what gifts we give them or how we have impressed them with our efforts. What makes Parents’ Day meaningful for parents-in-law is how we treat them even when it’s not their special day. Some in-laws can be pain in the neck sometimes, but here in Korea, they are our second parents. No matter how tough parents can be, they deserve love, respect and understanding.

어버이날 축하합니다, 아버님… 어머님!


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