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Korean Cultural Beliefs

As the culture of a country develops over the centuries -- and for Korea, there have been many centuries -- its people evolve a very distinct sense of belonging, and begin to differentiate themselves from the other cultures of the world. Especially when two cultures develop very far apart from one another, the members of each will find the differences between the two cultures very pronounced. Asian cultures and customs have long been a source of fascination for many North Americans and Western Europeans, and continue to be today. Of course, everyone knows that Koreans eat a lot of rice, that family is very important, and that any large parade is going to have at least one dragon, but stay tuned for some of the more subtle details that you really have to live there for a while to know about. For a normally serious people, some of these will make you scratch your head a little.


Fan Death

The very first time you hear a Korean talking about fan death, its not something that really phases you. It just sounds so absurd that your brain automatically files it under the same category with the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot and crossing black cats on the road. In fact, you will probably still have more fear in your heart directed at crossing those black cats later in the day. In a nutshell, the premise is this.

If you sleep in a room with a fan on and the windows closed: You will die.

True story. There are a multitude of reasons why Koreans believe this happens. The most common of these seems to be that, especially if the fan is placed very close to the sleeping person it will suck away the air from the persons face, and the person will die in their sleep, suffocated. Other common beliefs include:

  • Because when you are breathing, you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, during the night carbon dioxide levels will increase due to the combination of the fan --which is also reported to use up oxygen-- and closed windows and you will asphyxiate due to low oxygen levels. 
  • That the fan will cause the temperature in the room to drop to the point where you will be susceptible to hypothermia, due to the body's decreased metabolism at night and therefore increased sensitivity to cold during sleep.
  • That the fan's spinning blades will chop up all the oxygen particles in the room so that there will be none to breathe.
  • That a partial vacuum is created when the spinning of the fan causes a small vortex to happen, sucking all the oxygen out of the room.
  • That during very hot weather in the summer, the fan will cause a perceived lowering of room temperature, and the person will actually suffer from hyperthermia, or heat stroke.

The last theory of fan death, that involves a lower perceived room temperature, is the only one that is substantiated in any way. Even then, it can not by its self cause death, only tricking you into thinking that you are cooler than you are. Similar in a way to saying that coffee causes death by drunk driving. Not exactly a firm connection. The Korean Consumer Protection Board however, does not agree. A public safety announcement on their website (here) reads:

■ Doors should be left open when sleeping with the electric fan or air conditioner turned on
If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and hypothermia. If directly in contact with a fan, this could lead to death from increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems.

From 2003~2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.

And further down on the same announcement:

Summer Safety Guides
♣ Asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners

☞Set the timer or leave doors open when sleeping with fans/conditioners turned on.

According to Ask A Korean, cases of fan death are often reported in the supposedly reputable Korean media. He also provides a convincing argument for why fan death is real, you should read about it here.


Blood Type Influences Personality

This widely held belief in Korean and Japanese culture started in the 1920s, and although it is a myth that has been debunked several times since then, it has persisted in its popularity over the years. The Korean theory of blood type and personality can best be compared to the way westerners view zodiac signs. Just as your zodiac sign influences your personality and predicts certain things about your life, so does your blood type in Korea or in Japan. It is not considered to be as far reaching as the zodiac sign, as it really just a commentary on your personality but, there are many books about what the best job is for each blood type, and how different blood types react in different situations and even about how romance works between the blood types and who is the best match for each type.

Even on celebrity profiles in Korea and Japan, blood type is listed. If blood type is not listed, your biography or profile is considered to be pretty well incomplete. Its one of the first things you ask a new friend, especially a member of the opposite sex you think is attractive. In fact, it is so common, that Koreans think it is quite strange when westerners, or anyone for that matter, doesn't know his or her own blood type.

A quick rundown of the best and worst personality traits looks like this:

  • Type A
    Best traits
    Earnest, creative, sensible
    Worst traits
    Fastidious, over-earnest
  • Type B
    Best traits
    Wild, active, doer
    Worst traits
    Selfish, irresponsible
  • Type AB
    Best traits
    Cool, controlled, rational
    Worst traits
    Critical, indecisive
  • Type O
    Best traits
    Agreeable, sociable, optimistic
    Worst traits
    Vain, rude

According to Bella Online, an international site for women, the best compatibility matches are as follows:

A is most compatible with A and AB

B is most compatible with B and AB

AB is most compatible with AB, B, A and O

O is most compatible with O, and AB

Scroll to Continue

The popularity of understanding personalities through blood type lost popularity in the 1940s after it's original champion's death, but was re-popularized in the 1970s by Masahiko Nomi, a Japanese lawyer who's books have been phenomenally popular, despite is lack of medical background, and questionable, anecdotal research. Until recently it was not uncommon for children in kindergarten classrooms, as well as employees at work to be divided by blood type so they would work better together.


Other beliefs...

Although those are the two major common beliefs that most westerners find intriguing as they get to know there Korean culture, there are also some others that are of note:

  • Never write a Korean name in red ink, as it is associated with death and brings bad luck.
  • Many Korean buildings, especially the older ones do not have a fourth floor as the number four in Chinese-Korean numbering is similar to the word for death and is therefore considered to be bad luck.
  • Although the famous '63 Building' on Yeoido island in Seoul has a fourth floor, according to this article by the Korean TImes, it does not have a 44th floor. Apparently 'double death' was just too much.
  • Valentine's Day in Korea is a day when women give men presents. White Day, one month later on March 14, is for the men to return the favour.
  • A month after White Day is Black Day on April 14. Single people celebrate their singlness and eat noodles with black sauce.

 In spite of, or perhaps because of, all of these crazy beliefs, Korea actually is an amazing country, that you should visit if you ever get the opportunity. The people are warm and friendly, and will go out of their way to make sure that you have an amazing time and a pleasant stay. Just don't be surprised if they remind you to open your window when you sleep, or ask you what your blood type is within minutes of making your acquaintance.  

Laura Berwick is an English teacher at a private English school in Seoul, South Korea. For more information about Korean culture and living in Korea, please feel free to visit her blog.

More Information About Korea


trina robles on November 09, 2015:

Korean is beautiful country

oldiesmusic from United States on October 17, 2013:

Craziness is what makes a country's culture really interesting and worth knowing about. Same in Japan where the girls give flowers to boys on Valentine's day.

Probably the Koreans and the Chinese will see the Westerners weird as the latter's country's buildings don't have the 13th floor. :)

imigmaset on March 07, 2013:

When i utilized to get on top of living yet as of late I've accumulated some sort of resistance.

M Designer on April 13, 2012:

I was asked by a few Korean girls what my blood type was and when I answered, all of them started flirting. At first I thought they must be vampires or something. This actually cleared things up. Funny.

cutie,. on March 24, 2012:

me 2.

kevz on March 24, 2012:

therz only a beliefs,....but i learn much about this,.

Dumb Question on March 03, 2012:

If the air is so polluted that it makes eyes red and noses run for months on end, would Fan Death ever have any basis of truth?

awesome pawsome on February 15, 2012:

help a lot with my project

thoughts on December 29, 2011:

The whole fan/ air conditioning thing is just a way for the Korean government to get people to use electricity. Electricity is furnished by the government and they don't want people to use it. So they make up stuff to scare people. They want people to be scared of being cold so they don't turn on fans and air conditioners.

Joseph on December 01, 2011:

Can I just ask the author of the article to not confuse "its" with "it's"? You are an English teacher,aren't you..

happa on October 06, 2011:

Koreans are strange and have issues, but yes they are not all bad.

Mary on August 14, 2011:

I think that Koreans have many cultural problems.However,their food is pretty good.


Not all Koreans are bad, so if you see any don't be mean to them. :)

brittany spears on May 24, 2011:

Koreans are weirdos.

But loveable weirdos.

Who are teaching their kids incorrect English

Koreans are weirdos.

But loveable weirdos.

Who are teaching their kids incorrect E

xette on May 11, 2011:

i would like to ask if a korean do u a favor, is it Ok to just say thank you or do you need to say thank you in a tangible way?

dazza on April 06, 2011:

Koreans are weirdos.

But loveable weirdos.

Who are teaching their kids incorrect English.

John on February 16, 2011:

Yeah, Korea is a strange country to anyone not from Korea.

Also, as you can tell, they are VERY defensive about their strangeness.

Handan on October 11, 2010:

As a Korean-American, I have a mild dislike for only one mentioned on this list: Fan Death. To think such a ludicrious idea, proven wrong in lab after lab, was endorsed by public office is quite sad.

Also, the list forgot "Pepero Day," which is a sort of informal holiday that occurs November eleventh, 11/11, ergo the thinnest day in the year. You buy Pepero and give it to buddies!

Jay on September 13, 2010:

Hi, guys. First of all, I'm sorry for the Jae Kim's idiot reply as a Korean. Those beliefs are actually facts in Korea. I don't believe them though because I think the beliefs are just stupid things which aren't true.

Bruce on July 24, 2010:

I was an English teacher in Seoul back in the mid-90s. The fear of fan death was universal among Koreans and led to some odd stories like one co-worker's landlord coming into his room in the middle of the night to "save his life" by turning off the fan.

I also remember going to movies in Seoul and seeing the nang-bbang pyong/cold-room syndrome public service announcements. I found it to be a touch bizarre because I figure that well before somebody could suddenly and surprisingly find themselves in the grip of hypothermia or other ill effects of cold air they would simply turn off the A/C because it would become uncomfortable.

A similar sleep-oriented phobia that the students shared with me was ther fear of losing a limb while sleeping due to accidentally cutting off blood circulation. I tried to explain that wasn't going to happen to them because when circulation gets cut off the affected area starts to tingle and will eventually become painful if they don't wake up and shift their posture. They didn't believe me because they'd heard it on the news. It was a topic all of my students wanted to discuss to several days, and then the subject was collectively dropped and never brought up again. All of the teachers reported that this was on their students' minds at that time.

I hadn't understood the blood type issue while I was there, but I do remember being asked by students what my blood type was. I simply answered and considered it to be just one more odd question. It was never made into a big deal.

Something in this series of posts that doesn't surprise me at all is Jae Kim's response. I came to expect counter-attacks at anything that could be construed as criticism. I had the most difficulty with that in my first few months in Seoul while adjusting to being around a regular dose of air pollution for the first time. I'm from a mid-sized Middle America town and I had already travelled quite a bit, but when I got to Seoul my nose was always running and my eyes were always red. The students were concerned and started asking about it as it had apparently grown into a big issue for them and a topic outside of the classroom. They were concerned for my health in general, but when I told them it was because of the air pollution, several of the males became verbally combative with me. They perceived it as criticism. It's not like I could stop it immediately, because if I could have I certainly would have long before the students made it an issue. I learned to appreciate the days after it rained and the air cleared. After a few months I was having no further problems living in that level of air pollution.

Concerning the fourth floor in Korean buildings, I noticed it only after my students talked about it. It was just a note about cultures, and they equated it to the way Western Culture treats the number thirteen. I've never heard anything about the number six being bad in and of itself, and if any part of the United States would be freaked out by "the devil's number" I figure it would have been known and discussed where I spent my childhood.

As for the cultural aspect of writing a Korean name in red ink, I found out about that one the hard way. I would write down information about the students in new classes, and one day I only had a red pen to use. As far as Jae Kim saying that information in this post is outdated, even though it was fifteen years ago, I doubt that people who had such an incredibly negative reaction to my actions at that time could have changed so much as to completely not care about it now. Because of how upset those students became when I wrote their names with a red pen, to this day I would absolutely avoid repeating the action. Does that make me Jae Kim's idiot? I'd rather just say I'm trying to be considerate.

So that provides us with another aspect of Korean culture that I noticed while I was there: an inability on the part of many Koreans to handle anything that even vaguely seems like criticism from an outsider -- which is odd considering how important a role in Korean societal control intra-Korean criticism plays in their lives, but I figure they can express disdain at non-Korean sources of perceived criticism far more easily than they can when the sources of (constant and bitter) criticism are from older generations of their own families and they've been conditioned since early childhood to accept it.

I've spent half of my adult life overseas, and Korea is an okay place. It's not Heaven-on-Earth, but it's not bad, either. It certainly isn't as messed up as some places I've visited or worked. I could write more, but I have a flight to catch so I don't have time to pursue this any further right now.

I hope this wasn't too long-winded, but I found this to post to be an interesting diversion. Thanks.

kimberly anne gallardo on July 10, 2010:

i am very interested about the country of korea all of this about the culture,beliefs all about korean specially korean food

Jeddi on February 16, 2010:

Danny, I've no seen a building without a 6th floor due to it being a "devil's number", but often times, there won't be a 13th floor as the number is associated with bad luck. Also, many of these things may be outdated, but they were brought to my attention within the first 3 months of my stay here in Korea as well. As for the person who wrote before you, by all means, write one; and don't be offended, I am certain none of it was meant with disrespect. These were things that were observed while living IN Korea by a person not from there. Just because a culture believes certain things that are different from others doesn't mean they are less of a culture, it was just observation, so Jae Kim, no need to call people idiots.

Danny Kim on February 09, 2010:

Yep it's outdated, like you said the blood types is like your zodiac signs, but then you don't separate people with zodiac signs and stuff do you?

The fans, yes we do believe that but we have air conditioners and sleep timers so we don't have to worry do we? It's a REALLY old belief and it's also for little kids who forget to turn it off.

The fourth floor is very true, but then, a lot of buildings in america don't have the 6th floor either because 6 is the devil's number.

on January 27, 2010:

Ok as a Korean woman, I find this hub a little offensive. The only truly correct information here is about the fourth floor. Many buildings don't have a fourth floor because of the reason you mentioned.

This information is so outdated, let a Korean person write one. =)

jae kim on December 01, 2009:

hehe idiots.... im korean... and the information in this site is invalid as well as outdated.... we do not believe or practice those things anymore... and also... fan death does occure.. my uncle died from it. hmm.... different area of korea i guess..

Laura Berwick (author) from Seoul, Korea on November 02, 2009:

Hi Faith,

I don't know anything about the Korean belief of 40 days after death, but I'll try to look into it for you and see if I can find something.

Faith on July 30, 2009:

hi. I just wanted to know about their belief about the 40th day after death. can you please just let me know something about it.

Faith on July 30, 2009:

hi. I just wanted to know about their belief about the 40th day after death. can you please just let me know something about it.

Laura Berwick (author) from Seoul, Korea on July 16, 2009:

I had never heard of the blood type thing before moving here. It's funny how much you can learn about a culture by living in it, compared to just reading about it.

febriedethan from Indonesia on July 13, 2009:

Wow..I never know that blood type is important in Korea. I wondered why the Korean celebrities always put their blood type on their biography lists, now I get the answer. I just know the blood type diet :)

Thank's for the hub, great.

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