KOREAN AGE SYSTEM
In Western cultures, it is considered impolite to ask someone, particularly a woman, their age. However, in Korea, it is common for people to inquire about their age upon meeting them. This is not a sign of rudeness, but rather a way for the person to know how to address the individual appropriately. In the Korean language, there are different levels of politeness and formality in speech, and one's age is used to determine the appropriate level of politeness to use.
Traditional Korean Age System
In South Korea, the traditional age system is used, where a person is considered one year older as soon as they are born. This is different from the Western age system, where a person is considered one year older on their birthday. So, for example, if a baby is born on December 31st, it would be considered 2 years old on January 1st of the following year, under the Korean age system. This aging system is used in many other East Asian countries as well, such as Japan and China.
A September poll conducted by the Ministry of Government Legislation showed that over 80% of South Koreans supported the idea of unifying the age-counting system, with 86% of respondents saying they would use their birthdate age in their daily lives. This system has been used in South Korea since the 1960s. However, while many other East Asian countries have abandoned the traditional age-counting system, some countries, such as China, still use it. In China, a person is considered one year old on the day they are born and gains a year on the Lunar New Year.
How Old Are You in Korea?
The Korean age system is different from the Western age system in that a person's age is calculated based on the time they spent in the womb before being born, which is approximately one year. Therefore, a person's Korean age will always be at least one year older than their international age. Additionally, a person's Korean age changes on New Year's Day, rather than on their birthday. Even though people in Korea still celebrate their birthdays on the day they were born and count their actual age, it does not affect their Korean age, which changes on January 1st.
For example, if a person is born on April 1st, they would still celebrate their birthday on April 1st, however, their international age would change and not their Korean age which would not change until January 1st. If you want to calculate your Korean age, there are online calculators available and you can also try out the formulas provided.
Famous Idols’ Korean Age
Let us now check your favorite K-idols’ Korean age in 2023. Let’s start with our boys from BTS. The youngest of the group, Jungkook was born on September 1, 1997, which would make him 25 years old as of January 2023 in South Korea. BLACKPINK’s maknae, Lalisa Manoban, known professionally as Lisa was born on March 27, 1997, which would make her 26 years old as of January 2023 in South Korea. She debuted as a member of BLACKPINK in 2016 when she was 19 years old.
Bangtan Sonyeondan’s V, whose real name is Kim Tae-Hyung was born on December 30, 1995, which would make him 27 years old as of January 2023 in South Korea. He debuted as a member of BTS in 2013 when he was 17 years old, while South Korea’s sweetheart, IU (Lee Ji-Eun) was born on May 16, 1993, which would make her 29 years old as of January 2023 in South Korea. By this time you should know how to differentiate Korean from the International Age system. Now let’s tackle its importance in Koreans.
If you want to know your Korean age, there are three simple ways to find out. One way is to add one year to the current year and then subtract your year of birth. For instance, if the current year is 2021 and the year you were born in 1992, you would add one to the current year (2021 + 1) and subtract your year of birth (2021 + 1) - 1992 = 30. This method will result in your Korean age being one year older than your Western age. Another method is to add one year to your Western age if your birthday has already passed or add two years if your birthday has not yet passed. Lastly, you can also use a Korean age calculator that will give you your age in the Korean system.
Importance of the Korean Age
Age is highly valued in Korean culture and often the first question that people ask when meeting someone new is "How old are you?". Age is important for a variety of social interactions in Korea, such as determining whether someone is old enough to buy cigarettes or alcohol, and it also affects the way people interact with each other. People use different language and have different expectations of behavior based on a person's age, with older individuals being expected to pay for things, while younger individuals are expected to pour drinks.
The way people refer to their friends is also based on age, with older friends being called "nuna" or "eonni" and younger friends being called "dongsaeng". Given the significance of age in Korean culture, answering the question "How old are you?" is very important, but the answer will depend on the context of the question.
Korean Age Indicator of Politeness
Age is an important factor in determining how people address each other and the level of politeness used in speech. This is why many Koreans will ask about someone's age when they first meet them. There are various levels of politeness in the Korean language, and age is used to determine the appropriate level to use.
One of the reasons why there are many non-related "older brother" and "older sister" relationships in Korea is because of the way age is calculated. In Korea, people who are born in the same year are considered to be the same age, regardless of their actual birthdays. This can lead to friendships and relationships between people who are not related but are considered to be the same age.
In general, when people find out they are the same age, it can serve as a great icebreaker and lead to fast friendships. This is why when meeting someone through a mutual friend, Koreans will often automatically check each other's age to determine whether they can use informal speech right away. You can also make friends by giving gifts that will draw a smile on someone’s face. There are a variety of gift ideas that you can choose from online. SeoulBox offers that variety, from Korean snacks, skincare, merchandise, and crafts, addressing politeness to someone by age may not suffice, and giving them a gift that will grant them the taste of Korea without a ticket.
Author: Joshua Castillo