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Public Displays of Affection in Korea

August 25, 2011


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Ok, so apparently we need to find some time to start watching 2NE1 TV. For this week’s TL;DR, the top rated question was:

In an episode of 2NE1 TV, 2NE1 went to London, and when Park Bom saw a couple holding hands and kissing in public, she seemed surprised that they could do that so openly (and wished she could live there). Is PDA uncommon or looked down upon in Korea?

The simple answer to this is, yes, PDA (Personal Displays of Affection) is uncommon in Korea. In Korea, it’s called “skinship” which we think means friendship + skin = skinship, but that is actually a guess.

We touched upon the idea briefly in our post on What Korean Students Think of North Americans, when we were told that South Korean people supposedly think that North Americans are skanky. Skinship isn’t really common here between dating couples, and since it’s more common in North America, then it means we get around more. Ha! No, but really: we find it a bit odd, because we see a lot of people dating in Korea. All the time. Go to a coffee shop at night, and you’ll see tons of guys sitting across from girls and looking at each other, chatting, talking. They’re dating. We know it, but we only know it because we’ve been here for a while.

Korean Hand Holding

To us, holding hands meant dating. Now, we don't know...

Dating couples don’t often really physically show that they’re dating besides wearing matching clothing or sometimes holding hands. Hand holding exists here, yes, be that’s about the most we see to know someone is dating, and the reason why that isn’t that exciting to us is because friends in Korea, of all ages, hold hands freely. We’re not just talking about children or sisters, we’re talking about two guys, not dating, but good friends and 25 years old, holding hands. At first, we were a bit surprised because in North America once you’re an teenager/adult you don’t really hold hands for an extended period of time without dating that person, but we learned that in Korea, close friends hold hands.

That’s why we find it hard to tell the couples and the friends apart, because holding hands can mean closeness but not dating, while in North America, we have other clear displays of PDA to separate friends and daters. For example, in Korea we don’t really see a lot of skin touching, like girls snuggling up to guys when it’s cold. In fact, we think we can say that we’ve never actually seen people kiss in public in Korea. Trying to think back on it now, yeah…we can’t remember seeing it happen. Except once and it blew our minds. A young couple in a partially empty coffee shop, around 1 am. They were making out for something like half an hour. Oblivious to the world. Making out so hard that when we walked passed them to get to the washroom we stopped beside them, looked, and nothing. They wouldn’t stop. AWESOME! Other than that glorious moment, we haven’t seen people kiss in Korea.

Awkward Drama Hug is Awkward

Awkward Drama Hug is Awkward

We hope this lack of PDA should clarify why Korean dramas have some of the worst kissing scenes that we’ve ever seen. Are you kissing or just pressing your lips emotionlessly against each other? You call that a hug? Her arms are pinned at her sides!!! Really Goo Jun Pyo? You haven’t seen Jandi for 2 years, you just proposed and you don’t even KISS HER!!!!??? WHAT’S GOING ON!!!?? I’M SO STRESSED OUT!!!! AGHHHHH!!! *Martina leaves the room screaming and searches frantically for Coffee Prince, the only drama with decent passionate kissing*


Now we know that not everyone is like this, of course there will be couples PDAing it up in Korea, but it is really rare (unless you’re in the youthful club/dance floor/drinking zones) especially considering what we’re used to in North America, which is more like, “Hey, I just paid 20 bucks to see this movie, not to see you make out.”

We wonder, though, how affectionate people in Korea are in private. Not that we want to know all the details, of course, or not that we’re suggesting that Korean people are loveless. Nor can we fairly assume that all people will act the same way, just based on the examples of a few people. We’re just curious. K Dramas aren’t really the most reliable source material, you know? The two of us, for example, are really affectionate around each other in private, and feel like we can’t really be that affectionate in public because it might be viewed as inappropriate. Some of you might know about our Bobo rule (we said it in our Korean Masks Bloopers video), in which whenever one person says Bobo (Korean for “kiss”) the other person has to kiss them, no matter how stressed out or angry or tired or busy or whatever. Are other people as affectionate? Bah! Forget it. That’s an impossible question to answer.



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Public Displays of Affection in Korea


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