Grandmas vigorously face slapping unruly rich grand kids (normally male), women dressing up (and acting) like dudes so they can get a job or be closer to the man they fancy and of course poor slum living girl falling head over hills with high class brat. All these and even more "interesting" patterns you will come across once you open the Pandora box of Korean modern Drama. Only if you thought that Mexican or Brazilian soaps keeps you on your toes wait till you get hooked on this side of the world, Eastern.
Lets start with the things I have learnt about Korean culture solely by watching their drama series. It's ok to slap almost everyone if you are of a higher class especially being a Chairman, usually a woman of power in her late 50s having worked really hard to make it along the way, self made type of a thing. She is granted all the power of slapping her family and/or employees and almost everyone surrounding her. The rest of the bunch can slap/mistreat lower hierarchy/classes than theirs for example translated in Western mode your mother can slap you, you can slap your kids and your neighbors' kids if they are lower class, the postman for not delivering on time, the cleaner for breaking that vase and you can get smacked by your own boss at work. So I guess in Korea people must go around slapping each other a lot on the face when they are charged and the anger has build up. So careful not piss any Koreans off and always remember to bow to people of higher status, it shows that you have been well raised apparently (an extra tip on not to piss them off).
Girls having a crush are not allowed to tell. This must be some sort of a rule in Korea as in all the series I have watched no female is giving away that she likes a guy. Honestly I find that quite frustrating as there are plenty of clues around for the guy to realize it. The guy's thoughts: Hei, I kissed your sister or your best friend (enemy in reality) and you just happen to see it, why are you so upset about? Or: Your best friend (enemy in reality) has been hitting on me fiercely and I just announced to you that we are about to get married. What was all this change in you all of a sudden after we told you? What's wrong with you, why did you slap me (they also slap each other when they are in love-confused)? Why don't you smile at me anymore like before? Have I done something seriously wrong? I always saw you as a friend even though we shared all these fond memoirs together (holding hands, smiling like fools at each other, running without a purpose like kids outside somewhere while teasing each other, hundreds of almost accidental kissing situations).
Who are you dating is everyone's business. From you grandma of course, who is actually the one dictating who you should be dating on the first place to the simple man owning a little corner shop who knows much more about life than you ever will. The aunt is a catalyst to your dating as she normally observes everything and either approves greatly helping out with big favors or gives the bride to be the hardest time ever by blackmailing to disclosure her secrets to the world and/or just being bitchy.
The transformation. At least one of the protagonists of the show has a transformation whether this is of exoteric or esoteric nature. The physical transformation usually happens to a poor girl who has players far above her league to compete with in clothes and hair/make up level. Someone takes that poor "little" girl and gives her a complete make over, sometime they even teach her good manners as she comes from a "lower/peasant" class. Once they finish with her she wins the hearts of everyone and gets what she wants easily. The actress of course looks already drop dead gorgeous from the beginning of the show but she just has been hiding her beauty all these episodes behind these huge glasses, the ugly haircut or these saggy looking boyish clothes. The other sort of transformation is usually harder to achieve (takes more than half the episodes) and it normally happens cause either he/she had an accident, he/she came back from a coma, someone he/she knew was killed... all those sort of life changing experiences.
The gayness of men. If a guy takes more time to get ready than you in the morning then you might wanna double check his business if you know what I am saying. In Korean soaps men have hair highlights, wear low cut Ts with chest opening, apparently shave or wax their exposed body parts, wear skirts sometimes, huge scarves, expensive shoes with a heel, skinny jeans, metrosexual you say? If it was only the clothes then yes. The behavior though indicates a bit different. When poked they act like sissies and when it comes down to getting their hands dirty they would rather skip the hard work. I can't get used to seeing guys accessorizing an outfit more than their ladies counterparts in these series. I don't know if Korean women find that attractive but I think they find it cute reading from comments they leave for K-pop boy bands.
The "Orphan" phenomenon. Did I mention that one of the protagonists most likely doesn't have a father or a mother in life or most likely both? All the orphan stories of this world are aforementioned in these dramas. Likelihood of scenarios, parent had an accident when kid was very young, was killed by a relative, consciously abandoned the kid handing him/her to a relative, suddenly disappeared only to be found again later by the son/daughter, you get the drift. It makes me think if actually most people in Korea are abandoned as kids or are orphans so the scriptwriters try to relate to this category. Lets not forget though that these parents are mostly loved and honored by their kids after death (at least one funeral is shown in each series) and mostly they pass on a huge fortune that is secretly been consumed by the wrong relative.
The eating craze. Apparently one of the major differences I have noticed from the Western series is that for some reason in the Asian ones they eat A LOT. I mean it. Please don't watch them before having lunch or dinner cause you are going to end up drooling all over your shirt. Even when I am full when I watch an episode I still feel like eating after I see the main characters slurping down all these noodle dishes. Some actors spend 40 percent of their tv character life eating on camera. Are these scriptwriters on a rally to make the Korean nation fat? I did actually come to hate some actors judging only from their ability to eat big portions of noodles in a very disgusting way. There is no way though to eat too much pasta on Korean tv or make it look disgusting so that brings me to the next subject of Western food.
It is just pasta and coffee to the rest of the world! Not in Korea my dearest readers. These two are synonymous to the coolest Western inventions that attract the curiosity of the Asian population or is it just being dictated by the tv over and over till they become the country's favorites (so that the corporations can make millions). The actors tell you over and over how to pronounce pasta correctly and how it is eaten. Also how to order a latte or macchiato or any other cool Italian coffee. So huge is the propaganda for these two goods that they even have two series dedicated to this madness, Coffee Prince and Pasta which I both highly recommend by the way.
The good guys always, I repeat, always get abused. Kind of what you would expect from a drama but here we are talking about serious abusiveness. One strike of misfortune after the other hits these poor souls and the evil turn eviler. Not only they have no parents to help them out, they get mistreated by their living extended family and they have no education or money to make it on their own. Moreover they romantically fancy someone who doesn't give a rats ass about them. I am asking you, how much more worse someone's life can get?
Bad guys are rotten. Beneath all these smiles, expensive clothes and pretensions hide some evil masterminds. I am not only going to be jealous, I am going to make your life a living hell and you better believe it I will (words exchanged between two sisters). I am going to destroy your career just because you were everyone's favorite as a kid (ex-best friends). Lets steal your half sisters' part of the will and hide it from everyone also blackmail her if she tries to let the cat out of the bag (mother to her daughter).
There is no middle class. Here is how I have imagined Korea through the lenses of the soap operas. A place occupied only by the Louis Vuittons and the Oliver Twists. The rich just have it all, the most expensive imported cars, house up the hill with great gardens that require daily care, super chic and trendy clothing, vacations abroad wherever they fancy, rich friends, superb condos for their kids, educated abroad (mostly US). They also get everyone to bow in their presence. Life like a King? The poor ones don't get anything, maybe some noodles to eat.
Whoever has a nose job say I. You would get lots of Is from Korean actors. In fact even men get it I think. Plastic surgery is quite common on set and people go all the way changing parts they think are not perfect, chin, lips, cheekbones probably earlobes. I haven't read anything on the subject but it is pretty obvious. "This didn't go as planned" transformations, Park Jun-Keum, Bae Yong-Joon, Lee Hye Young. If you know others please comment below.
Besides contemporary stories Koreans are very good in making epic series like Chuno for example, one of my favorites. A wonderful mix of drama and comedy, full of action but not an overkill. For those who want something Ally McBeal style look into Prosecutor Princess, a light comedy, Glee funs look no further than Dream High and You're Beautiful. Both singing and fame related. Where did I get to watch all these shows with English subtitles? On Hulu Plus.
Here is some words that I learnt watching these shows, they are quite common I guess, just tend to be repeated very often in shows.
Araso> It's ok, I understand. Or I will do as you say.
Yoboseyo> Hello? > phone
Kumao> Thank you
Kamsahamnida> Formal thank you
Eomeoni, Eomma> Mother
Aggashi> Young lady.
Fighting!>A bit mispronounced there by our fellow Koreans. They have a gesture that comes with the saying, they say it at least once in every series. Don't know where it originated, please leave a comment if you do I would like to know. It shows support in what you do, encouragement if you will.
Thanks for having the patience to go through this long article, I hope it amused you in a way:) Don't forget to hit the like button! Leave your comments below...