Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Korean Beard Lore

I accidentally stumbled across a fascinating little tidbit of Korean culture this evening. I was at dinner with three friends—Adam, Elijah (fellow teachers) and Hanna (my roommate and student assistant). Elijah has recently grown his beard out, and it is a magnificent quatracolored beard, too. Adam is also beginning a beard journey of his own (“I’ve taken a vow,” he claims), but it’s more at the shall we say “scruffy” end of things right now.

I think it’s needless to say, but Koreans are not particularly adept at growing beards. We have seen some very fine mustaches on the subway and our seedy island of Yeongdo resembling the rat-tails of Ho Chi Minh’s brand of facial hair. But a beard of Marxian proportions remains rare (the man, that is, not the philosophy). So Elijah’s beard is not something Koreans see every day, which was evidenced by Hanna asking to touch it and then laughing like mad at how it felt.
She also shed some very interesting light on Korean beard-growing procedures. The conversation went something like this:

“When someone wants to grow a beard, we say to them, ‘You should think about...’” She looked a little hesitant, as when she’s unsure of pronunciation. Also she put her hand in front of her mouth. Perhaps, I thought, she was chewing her kimchi bokkumbap. “Like _______.”
We looked stumped. I thought I heard “or no.”
She looked at us expectantly. “_________.” She was quite sure of the word now. We still were not.
“Digorno?” Adam tried.
Then Hanna looked stumped. She tried again.
“Ummmm, it’s sort of...sexual?”
“Oh! You mean ‘Porno’! Got it!” Elijah and I exclaimed.
Adam: “Wait, excuse me?”
“When someone wants to grow a beard—or any hair—in Korea, we say to them, “You should think about porno!””

Hanna bought me cake this week because I
was stressed. And she cleans the bathroom.
Killer roommate.
Who knew?

Koreans also consider beards a little dirty. Not in the sexual sense (which, considering how its growth is encouraged, I was tempted to think), but in the actual “not clean” sense. They eat a lot of soup here, so it makes a good deal of sense.

Actually, attractive Korean men, explained Hanna, can grow beards. And only attractive men can do it.

“But they don’t,” she hurriedly added. “Just can. Maybe they grow...” She gestured a mustache. “It sometimes looks nice, but if it gets too long, he looks like a grandfather.”

Anyway, I think the obvious take-away from this bit of Korean culture is this: if you want to grow your hair out, think about porno.


  1. ya think i should shave for an upcoming samsung investor mtg???
    i keeo a tight, short, academic-ish look... fairly striking i am told (who knows what that might mean)... don't want the Korean panel thinking porn while i talk.

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