From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

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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Filipina Wife vs. Korean Husband (Part 1)

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2As a couple who lives in a marriage with two different cultures, my husband and I don’t usually see eye to eye on many things. Our hobbies are quite different and our personalities are incompatible. He’s got some habits that I’m not crazy about, and I’m certain that some of my habits also drive him bonkers.

Pettifogging used to be a normal thing for us, but now we usually just laugh off little misunderstandings.

Below is a short video of some of my Korean husband’s habits that irk me.

Do you know anyone who has the same habit?

I will attempt to explain why some Korean husbands behave the way they do, but on this post, I will talk about only three habits that may be true about some Korean husbands or husbands in general.

Help me with the chores, please.

In Korea, husbands rarely help with household chores.

According to a report issued by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), South Korea got the lowest rank among 29 countries in a survey of how many hours husbands spend on performing household chores. Korean men are often overworked that even until the age of 71, they continue working to fend for their families. Because of this, most Korean men refuse to participate in housework.

How about husbands who are unemployed?

According to an article I have read in the Korea Times a few years ago, even jobless men are reluctant to do household chores. Statistics revealed that unemployed husbands spent 1.6 to 3.2 hours doing household tasks, while their wives spent 3.1 to 4.8 hours. While it is common for men to evade housework, Korea’s patriarchal society  may be the main reason why most Korean men spend less time helping their wives at home. As my father-in-law once said, “Housework is for women. Men should not be in the kitchen washing dishes.”

Nowadays, more younger couples in Korea are changing this belief. I am grateful that my husband can be easily swayed to help me at home when housework is too much for me. Of course, he complains, but in the end, he helps out, as I always put my “nagging skills” to use. Sometimes I don’t even have to ask him for help. He’ll cook dinner, wash the dishes or take out the trash when he knows how exhausted I am.

Don’t overfeed me!

Recently, muk-bang or ‘eating broadcasts’ have become a trend in South Korea, but before there were TV shows and livestreams of Koreans eating gluttonously while chatting with their viewers, Koreans had long been gourmands (lovers of good food or people who eat too much). Why not? There are tons of delectable dishes to enjoy in Korea.

I love Korean food, but no matter how I love, let’s say Korean garlic chicken, don’t expect me to wolf it down when I just finished dinner and I’m still feeling stuffed. This may seem too trivial, but my husband’s habit of “eating again” after we’ve just eaten drives me nuts! I don’t think it’s only my husband or his family who does this. I’ve noticed other Koreans do it, too. This is one Korean habit that my husband can’t change, which gives me a legit excuse for gaining weight. ^^

It’s time to change that stinky shirt!

All right, before I talk about this, please know that I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT ALL KOREAN MEN. I repeat, NOT ALL KOREAN MEN… so I hope no Korean will be offended. ^^V

My husband has the habit of wearing the same clothes for days, and this gives me a migraine! He doesn’t smell like a skunk, but being an OC, I just can’t tolerate it. My mother-in-law explained to me that some Koreans don’t change clothes everyday, especially in winter, for the following reasons 1.) they don’t sweat much, because it’s freezing 2.) winter clothes are heavy and take a long time to dry after they are washed  3.) they are busy and have no time to think about what clothes to wear the next day 4.) older Koreans don’t care much about fashion.

I asked my husband why he just can’t part with his three-day (sometimes four/five-day) old shirts and his answer was: “I’m lazy!” ^^

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