Culture Quickies

Korean Expert: Understanding Korea Through Proverbs #02

It has been said that to understand a people, you must know their proverbs. There’s a lot of merit to this argument, especially since proverbs tend represent a common set of values, beliefs and ideals for a culture.

Each week, I’ll teach you brings you two Korean proverbs that you can use in everyday life (and sound like a complete boss). This is for all you wanting to know more about the language than the “Annyeong” and “Saranghae”, wanting to get deeper into the psyche of the typical Korean.





남의 떡이 커 보인다
Phonetic: “Namui ddeogi keo boinda”

Literal: “Someone else’s rice cake always looks bigger.”
Meaning: “You always think someone else is better off than you.”

PSY actually paraphrased this proverb in the lyrics of ‘Right Now‘, the title track of his fifth album ‘PSY FIVE‘. I think the proverb is in many cultures. The most common English version of this is “The grass is always greener on the other side.”

However, “the grass is greener” is only one application of this proverb. It is generally used when one person covets the possessions or situation of another person. It’s noting that our perspectives are skewed to devalue the things that we already have, even if they are the same as, or maybe even better, than the things we don’t yet already have. It is supposed to help us learn to understand the value of what we already have.




가랑비에 옷 젖는 줄 모른다
Phonetic: “Garangbiae ot jeotneun jul moreunda”

Literal: “You don’t notice your clothes getting soaked by drizzle.”
Meaning: “It’s difficult to recognise change or danger when it happens or creeps up gradually.”

We should always be aware of our surroundings and situation. Many things in life happen gradually and quietly, but those things can be very significant. Always be alert for the warning signs in case they come, and try to think ahead if you sense that something may be a problem.

The little things add up: what might not seem like an issue now, may become something that is far too big for you to deal with.


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