If you’re like me and you watched way too many Kdramas than you should, hold up. You’re probably harboring false images of Korea in your head.
Tons of handsome Gong Yoo lookalikes at every turn? Plates and plates of kimchi with every meal?
The media is great at making certain assumptions about Korea seem real. But 99% of the time, these are stereotypes that paint an inaccurate image of the country. And as always, these false assumptions do more harm than good to you and to Koreans.
Don’t want to fall victim to them? Keep reading for the 10 Korean stereotypes that are actually NOT TRUE.
1. Koreans are the Heaviest Drinkers in the World
Soju, beer, makgeolli, name it! The amount of alcohol in Kdramas can make an entire town drunk. Heck, your favorite Kdrama character can probably chug a liter of beer in one go! However, statistics say that Koreans aren’t the heaviest drinkers in the world.
In 2019, Korea ranked only 56th in alcohol consumption worldwide. That’s more than 20 spots below the United States who’s at 38th place.
Still not believing the numbers? In 2018, 62% of Koreans said they won’t live with a neighbor who’s a heavy drinker. Now we see that drinking heavily in Korea isn’t as normalized as we think.
But while Koreans aren’t the world’s top alcohol chuggers, drinking is still a big part of their life. Restaurants serve their food with alcohol. Coworkers and classmates frequently go out for drinks.
Seeing someone passed out on the street is a fairly common sight. Still, this doesn’t mean that they’re alcoholics who get hammered every night.
2. All Koreans Have Beautiful Skin
As the skincare capital of the world, surely all Koreans must have great skin, right?
Sadly, no. Like everyone else, even Koreans get bad skin. Some have glowing glass skin like a Hallyu star. Others also get nasty breakouts.
Remember that getting flawless skin is a matter of genes and lifestyle. It’s true that Koreans pay great attention to their skincare routine. But not everyone’s a winner in the genetic lottery.
If you think all Koreans have skin as smooth as a boiled egg, you’re probably talking about celebrities. But keep in mind that these stars have money for expensive treatments to help them look pretty.
Heck, try Googling some Korean celebrities without makeup. You’ll see that even A-listers have their bad skin days.
Read More: Why Koreans Have Clear Skin
3. All Koreans are Obsessed with Plastic Surgery
Ever heard the legend saying Koreans get plastic surgeries as graduation gifts? On top of this, news reports make it seem like Koreans are plastic surgery addicts.
But the truth is, not all Koreans get plastic surgery. It’s true that more Koreans undergo cosmetic procedures compared to other countries. But certainly not everyone in the country wants to go under the knife.
In fact, Korea is not among the top five countries with the highest number of plastic surgery performed.
But with the rampant ‘lookism’ in Korea, this stereotype isn’t surprising at all. In Korea, good looks are important to get jobs and be successful. So it’s no wonder that many (but not all!) will go through the knife for beauty.
You should also be careful with statistics. Lots of beauty treatments in Korea are simple procedures like mole removal and botox. So if you came across crazy statistics, they probably included treatments like these in the count.
4. Korean Men Wear Makeup
Whether they’re dancing onstage or just hanging out, male Kpop idols often wear makeup. But if you’re wondering if the average Korean guy does the same, hear this out. In Korea, it’s actually rare to see men wearing makeup.
Korean men admit that they use skincare products like sunscreen and facial wash. But it’s a totally different case if we’re talking about eyeliner, foundation, and blush.
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5. All Koreans Love Kpop
This is one of the most popular Korean stereotypes!
Given Kpop’s huge success, you might think that all Koreans are hardcore Kpop stans. But like in any other country, Koreans have diverse music tastes. Not everyone likes Kpop. Some even hate it because it’s mainstream.
Take a look at Korea’s domestic music charts. You’ll notice that Kpop songs only make up a few of the tracks on the charts. The more popular genres are actually ballads and official soundtracks.
In fact, Kpop idols are at the bottom of the celebrity ladder in Korea. The public respects actors, athletes, and other celebrities more than idols.
Still, this doesn’t mean that Kpop isn’t big in Korea. You really can’t go about your day without hearing a Kpop song here. But hardcore stanning isn’t rampant, and their lives don’t revolve around Kpop.
6. All Koreans Love Kimchi
Kimchi is like the BTS of Korean food. You can’t imagine Korea without thinking about kimchi! But if you believe every single Korean loves kimchi, think again. The truth is, some Koreans don’t eat kimchi at all.
Most Koreans can’t get enough kimchi. They usually eat it with every meal since it’s a side dish. In 2019, 1 out of 5 households even has the famed ‘kimchi fridge.’
But there are some Koreans who won’t eat this beloved fermented vegetable delicacy. Others find the smell too strong. Or they can’t stand spicy food. Lesson learned: Don’t blabber about kimchi when you visit Korea. You might be talking to a kimchi anti-fan!
Read More: What Koreans Say Before Eating
7. Koreans are Math Geniuses
Contrary to the lanky, glasses-wearing math wiz image, not all Koreans are great at math. Some flunk their classes and just plain suck at the subject. This video where they’re asked to solve SAT questions shows how Koreans have math issues, too.
But let’s just say that there’s a bit of truth to this stereotype. Education in Korea can be tough. Kids study until the wee hours of the night – they even take extra classes on weekends. So there’s no wonder that Korea ranks high among countries in terms of math scores.
Still, it’s wrong to assume that each and every Korean is a math god. Like you, they’re also victims of those numbers and worksheets!
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8. All Koreans Have Small Eyes
Like their East Asian neighbors, Koreans get a lot of comments for their eyes. They have folds covering their inner eyes, making them look small.
Still, there are many Koreans who don’t have small eyes. You can even come up with a long list of Korean idols and actors. Think Twice’s Jihyo, SHINee’s Minho, and LOONA’s Yves. They have beautiful, round eyes.
That’s why aside from being racist, the “chinky eyes” joke is an inaccurate description of Korean looks.
Read More: Discover Korea With These 12 Youtube Channels
9. Korean Men are Like Kdrama Oppas
Ladies, we hate to break this to you. The average Korean guy isn’t like your Kdrama oppa. They won’t sweep you off your feet with god-tier looks and knight-in-shining-armor charm.
After one too many Kdramas, many ladies get their expectations high for Korean men. But you can’t fit them into one single ‘Kdrama oppa ideal.’ They come in all looks and attitudes, just like the men from everywhere in the world.
Girls, they’re celebrities and fictional characters for a reason!
10. Koreans are Racist
This might have been true a few years back. But today, racism in Korea is on the decline. It’s been noted that the younger generation is becoming more open to foreigners.
In this 2018 survey, 22% of Koreans reported that they don’t want to be neighbors with foreigners. That’s a very big decline from the 44% recorded in 2010-2014.
But considering Korea’s history, accusations of racism aren’t surprising. After decades of resisting globalization, Korea is fairly homogenous ethnically. Until last year, only 5% of the country aren’t ethnic Korean.
So it’s no wonder that foreigners might get curious looks in Korea. Still, assuming that racism is rampant in the country betrays the huge progress made by the country.
Korean stereotypes are often products of the media. With the popularity of Kdramas and Kpop, fans inevitably form their own versions of Korea.
But more often than not, these stereotypes do more harm than good. It’s important to learn the truth about them so we don’t peddle false images about the Korea we all love.
Make sure you also read our new blog posts about funny Korean names and Doljanchi and Doljabi tradition (first birthday celebration)!