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Why do Korean use family titles to refer to non-family?

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There are many types of Korean culture to learn, today, we will learn about why do Korean use family titles like 할아버지 to refer to non-family. As if it isn’t enough that you have to worry about speaking a foreign language, in Korea, you constantly have to struggle with what to call people. As a foreigner, you may be forgiven for small mistakes as long as you don’t keep making them! In Korean, you must never call someone older than yourself by his or her name. Rather, you must call him or her by an appropriate familial title.

Why do Korean use family titles to refer to non-family?

Korean Culture

Why do Korean use family titles to refer to non-family?

All older family members should be addressed by a title, no matter how close you are. If you are a woman, an older should be called 언니 and an older brother 오빠. If you are a man, your older sister should be called 누나 and your older brother should be called 형. But interesting enough, family titles can also be used to refer to those outside your family.

Since Confucian ideology sees the family as a model for society as a whole, family titles are used with non-family to describe social relationships as well. In English, you can call anyone a “friend”, but in Korean, friend ( 친구 ) only refers to someone your same age. An older friend (even just one year older) is not friend ( 친구 ) but rather sister or brother ( 언니, 누나, 오빠, 형) depening on your gender and the gender of your friend.

You may refer to a 70 or 80-years-old you meet on the street as 할아버지 or 할머니. Though 아줌마 and 아저씨 used to be strictly family titles, they are now used to refer to the many 40 or 50-years-old you may meet in the course of a day, such as taxi drivers or store owners.

But becareful using these titles – they can give you a sense of intimacy, but a misuse if them can be very dissatisfying for the listener. Calling a young looking 30-years-old woman 아줌마, for instance, might elicit a very cold response. Much as calling a young woman “ma’am” in western countries! Now, you understand why one of the first questions Koreans will ask upon making an acquaintance, is, “How old are you?”

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