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 Should Never Ever Say or Do When Your Korean Parents-in-law Are Around

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7The other night, I got scolded by my father-in-law for using the word “Ya!” (Hey!) with my husband. If he had reprimanded me for such a simple reason back when I was still a novice myeonuri (daughter-in-law), I might not have taken it lightly and would have spent the wee hours of the night crying or complaining to my husband about how unreasonably strict his father is. Yup, I’ve been there… too long, in fact, that, I got used to the draconian ways of Korean parents-in-law when it comes to dealing with their daughters-in-law. Now, I usually just let my FIL’s words pass me by like the wind. It’s not like he scolds me every single day, but when he does, it can be pretty daunting, even when sometimes he means well. 

What is it about “Ya!” that ticked him off, you may ask? In Korea, using that expression to someone older is extremely rude. To Abonim (FIL), using it with my husband is a mortal sin. I have never used that word with anyone other than my husband. It has become sort of a joke between us. He calls me “Ya!” when I am annoying him, and I say “Ya!” to him when he is not paying attention to me. My mistake, however, was that I hollered “Ya!” to him when I knew that Abonim could hear me from the other room. You see, my father-in-law has ESP (extrasensory perception). I’m kidding of course, but in our little abode, he can be everywhere!

6My mother in-law heard me when I used that term. She was in the kitchen with me, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it. She smiled instead, because after I said “Ya!”, she saw my husband run away from me with a can of Coke in his hand which I mistook for a can of beer. She understood what was going on, and even sided with me, reminding her son to avoid alcohol. My Omonim (MIL) rarely gives me a talking to. There was one incident, though, when she reprimanded me in front of my husband’s other relatives for spending too much time getting my hair and make-up done for my brother-in-law’s wedding. I was mortified! I almost cried in front of all the people who witnessed my humiliation, but thank God, I was able to hold back the tears. I knew that Omonim was sorry for embarrassing me, because when I got in my room to change into my hanbok, she followed me inside and helped me get dressed.

As a myeonuri, there are things you should NEVER EVER say or do when your in-laws are around. I will enumerate some of them. Most of these are based on my own experiences and personal observations. Some have been shared with me by other myeonuris.

When your Korean parents-in-law are around, never ever…

  • call your husband by his first name (Using terms of endearment are common among Koreans.)

  • talk to your husband using banmal (informal or casual speech in Korean, the kind of speech that does not use honorifics) (My sister-in-law is a few years older than her husband, but she rarely uses banmal when she talks to him, especially when she is in front of our parents-in-law.)

  • sit with your legs straight out in front of you or cross your legs, especially when talking to your in-laws

  • speak in English or in your native tongue (They’d rather hear you speak bad Korean than hear you talk in a language they can barely understand.)

  • do aegyo (talk and act like a child to appear charming or cute) (Seriously, this can be annoying even to other people.)

  • get lovey-dovey with your husband

  • argue with your husband

  • kid around your husband’s male relatives or friends even in an uncoquettish way

  • let your mother-in-law work alone in the kitchen (no matter how busy, tired or sick you are) (My MIL is very considerate. She doesn’t pressure me to help with the chores when I’m not feeling well. Some myeonuris, however, are forced to do housework even when they are ill. I know a fellow Filipina who was tasked to do farm work even when she was pregnant. Her MIL would bang the door of her bedroom everytime she didn’t wake up early and would nag at her relentlessly when she failed to prepare breakfast.)

  • try to get even by saying something negative about Korea after they make an unpleasant comment about your country

  • contradict anything they say (even when you know more about something they believe they are experts at)

  • disregard their suggestions  (You don’t have to follow everything they tell you, but spare yourself the grudge by pretending that you appreciate their advice. Remember, the in-laws know everything! At least that’s what they think.)

  • give excuses for your mistakes

  • talk or laugh too loud

  • brush or dry your hair in front of them

  • wear anything that exposes your shoulders or legs like shorts or tank tops (even in summer when it’s freaking hot!)

  • wear too much make-up

  • wear piercings (A former collegue told me that everytime she meets her boyfriend’s parents, she has to remove her cartilage piercings, because she’s afraid her future parents-in-law might see them.) 

  • give them a hint that you’ve gone shopping (Hide all those shopping bags before they see them!)

  • serve food with only two or three banchan (side dishes) (They might assume that you are not feeding their son well.)

  • come home late (but it’s totally all right with them if your husband comes home late, tipsy)

  • kick your husband out of the room for being drunk

Although these may happen to myeonuris with strict parents-in-law, it doesn’t mean that they are encountered by all daughters-in-law in Korea.  Some myeonuris are fortunate to have in-laws who are more open-minded. My father-in-law may be a bit of a dictator, but he isn’t mean all the time. Today, while I was working in the kitchen, he called me to eat before I finish the chores, because the food was getting cold. The truth is, I am headstrong, but living with the in-laws has taught me a lot about humility. In Korea, you can’t be a good myeonuri if pride is more valuable to you than establishing a good relationship with your husband’s parents. Get rid of your pride and obey first to win their respect and approval. You can keep a little of that pride, because you will need it to maintain your self-esteem, but know when to use it, and never ever use it as a weapon against your parents-in-law.

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