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Korean Age Counting System

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Korean Age Counting System is much complicated and different from Western countries. It makes Korean culture more unique from Westerners. Age is very important to Koreans, because Korean use family titles to refer to non-family, so age partially determines status and shapes the way one interacts with others. Have you been to a Korean birthday party before?

Korean Age Counting System

Korean Age Counting System

Korean Age Counting System

In Korea, age is counted differently than everywhere else. When a baby is born, Koreans count him as one year old, Koreans consider the gestation period as the first year. This show how Koreans respect all stages of life.

Koreans count themselves one year older every January 1. So, a baby born on 31 December will be already 2 years old on 1 January. However, when one needs to write down an age for formal purposes, one either writes down the date of birth (year/month/day) or calculates in the Western way (non-Korean age system) with the word 만 attached (which means full), in front of one’s age. Some people who would rather knock a couple years off their age opt to use this 만 age all the time. This way, a baby born on 31 December is만1 year old (one full year) on 31 December.

Age is very important to Koreans. In Korea, age partially determines status and shapes the way one interacts with others. So why do Koreans seem to count age differently than Westerners do? First, because Koreans count the time that a baby spends in the womb, newborn-babies are considered to be a year old. In addition to that, Koreans don’t think of the birthday in the way that Westerners do.

Rather, following tradition, when the old year ends and the new year begins on the morning of the Lunar New Year, everyone eats 떡국 (a soup made with rice cakes) and “eats” another year in age (Koreans say 한 살을 먹다). So, no matter when your actual birthday is, your Korean age increases on the New Year rather than your birthday. Therefore, depending on the time of year, your Korean age is 1 or 2 years older than your age by Western reckoning. This could make a big difference in age.

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