November 17, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Ihon (Divorce)

Road sign for a fork in the road ahead - one arrow splits into twoIhon (이혼) – divorce – is our KDrama word for today. Ihon is the common Romanization, but remember that the Korean letter Romanized as “i” is pronounced “ee,” so eehon would be a better English spelling for it. Like 사랑 (love) and 결혼 (marriage), 이혼 becomes a hada verb: 이혼하다 (ihonhada), “to do divorce.”

You may notice the words for marriage and divorce both include the syllable 혼 (hon). As a standalone word, 혼 means “Soul.” We know this because it was the Korean title of Lee Seo Jin’s striking 2009 horror drama. Does it carry the same meaning within the words for marriage and divorce? Don’t know, but that would make sense.

You can find a huge range of statistics for Korean divorce, many of them badly outdated. Non-Koreans living in Korea contribute to this, reporting divorce as extremely rare, because it is not necessarily talked about. However, the statistics show a different story. Although there is still a strong cultural value to keep families together, especially where there are children, Korean divorce has been steadily rising for more than a decade. Until recently, divorced people rarely remarried (probably because they were not seen as desirable mates), but this too has started to change.

One reason for the change is probably that courts have become a little more sympathetic to Korean women. The prevalence of rural Korean men marrying women from outside of Korea with no preparation for cultural differences is also a factor. Divorce is most common among people over 40. Extreme abuse from or of “lineal ascendants” (i.e., parents or grandparents) of a spouse is listed twice in the six grounds for divorce, but abuse of children is not specifically mentioned. Presumably it would be covered under a catchall item.

Couples can divorce by mutual agreement, or take the divorce to court if they cannot agree on terms. There is a division of property acquired or sustained during the marriage, and child support, but no alimony. Child custody is far more likely to be awarded to the father. There is also common-law-marriage in Korea, which does give spouses some economic rights, but no inheritance rights.

Check out this example divorce case.

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November 16, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Kyorhon (Marriage)

Clasped hands of two people on a beachKyorhon 결혼 (marriage) has got to be one of the top 5 KDrama words. The verb form, “to marry,” is 결혼하다 (kyorhonhada). As with 사랑 (sarang), the verb form consists of noun+하다 (hada), the verb “to do.” So 사랑하다 literally means “to do love,” and 결혼하다 is “to do marriage.” There are MANY hada verbs in Korean. That’s why it is the default verb in the 동사 verb conjugator.

You may also see 결혼 Romanized as gyeolhon. Seems like an entirely different word from an English-speaking perspective, right? But no. I’ve ranted enough on this topic. I rest my case.

Korean marriage is the uniting of two families, not just two people, so it can be fraught with complications. We have all seen this in Korean drama, and by all reports, it is not much exaggerated. First there are blind dates, a KDrama staple. Arranged marriage is still common, and is typically initiated by parents, often with the assistance of a matchmaker, who sets up meetings with potential candidates. A good marriage partner in this context is someone who is good-looking (by Korea’s rather narrow standards), and of a similar economic, educational, and social status.

If a couple agrees to date, the 100-day anniversary of the relationship is a noteworthy milestone, and may be a good time for a marriage proposal, or if not that, at least for couple rings. Married people do not necessarily wear wedding rings, so couple rings, or matching clothes, phone or other accessories may be the only public acknowledgment of a relationship.

Once marriage is agreed to, wedding gifts between families are crucial. A home for the couple is provided by the groom’s family, and furnished (including major appliances, if they are in that kind of income bracket) by the bride’s family. Additional gifts of money and other things are expected on both sides, and also from guests (parents may expect to keep money gifts from guests to offset their expenses, a frequent source of contention between parents and couples). Major rifts can result when marriage gift expectations differ.

The families share the cost of the the wedding and honeymoon, and the bride keeps her own family name, but children take their father’s family name. There is no government-sanctioned same-sex marriage in Korean, but gay and lesbian couples may privately marry if they choose. More about Korean marriage.

Women marrying an oldest son should be aware that he is on the hook to support his parents for life, which may mean moving in with them, or having them move in with you. Women are expected to help the women of their husband’s family with domestic chores, and the usual Korean hierarchies of age apply between daughters-in-law (according to their husband’s ages, not their own).

There has been a huge influx of non-Korean women marrying rural Korean men, often with unhappy results. Abuse, divorce and even murder have become such a problem that the Korean government has stepped in, setting up education and support resources for international couples and special requirements for international marriage. The couple must show that they have sufficient funds to support themselves, and that they have a language in common.

KBS has a program about marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans called Love in Asia. There are many episodes with English subs on YouTube. There is currently no way to bring up a list of them all from within the KBS YouTube channel, but you can get a pretty good list by googling love in asia youtube kbs english.

This website by an Australian man teaching in Korea who recently married a Korean woman compares current Korean marriage conventions with Australian customs. As with many other aspects of Korean culture, marriage customs are rapidly evolving.

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