|The U.S. version of the smiley face emoji, left, comes from a "toothy" smile, whereas the Japanese emoji features smiling "eyes," according to a Japanese scholar. Korea Times graphic by Cho Sang-won|
'Culture Code' delves into way of thinking behind country-specific phenomena
By Kang Hyun-kyung
In the digital age, emoticons or emojis are an essential part of life for Koreans. They are used extensively in emails, text messages and online and mobile messenger apps.
According to free mobile instant messaging app KakaoTalk, emoticons were used 2 billion times per month in 2018 and the frequency has surged in recent years. In 2012, for example, emoticons were used 400 million times every month.
Kim Sae-won, author of "A Glimpse of Globe Through Culture Code" published by Person and Idea publishing house, says Koreans are educated not to reveal their emotions openly, particularly in working relationships, and their extensive use of emoticons in private communications with their friends or family appears to have something to do with this upbringing.
"Unlike Western people, Asians, particularly Koreans and Japanese, are taught not to show their emotions openly to others," the book reads. "In a culture where revealing one's emotions is natural, however, people don't hide their feelings. They reveal their emotions freely in various ways. Smiley faces, grins, ridiculous looks, gestures and other various types of facial expressions are common in their daily communication. Contrary to such an open culture, in a society where people have to show restraint, people don't reveal their emotions through facial expressions."
|Kim Sae-won's "A Glimpse of Globe Through Culture Code" published by Person and Idea publishing house|
"Culture Code" delves into the way of thinking behind certain cultural phenomena. The author focuses on 27 country-specific phenomena across the globe and explains how local cultures are intertwined behind them.
Kim, also an invited professor at Konkuk University Graduate School of Public Administration and director of the Institute for Branding Global Culture, says culture codes appeared to have played a part in the stark differences in the use of emoticons between the East and the West.
Emoticons are popular in Korea and Japan, whereas people using chatting apps created in the West, such as Whatsapp, use relatively fewer emoticons than East Asians.
Kim says culture also has affected the forms of emoticons. Citing the 2007 research conducted by Masaki Yuki, a professor at Hokkaido University School of Humanities and Human Sciences, Kim says different cultures create different emoticons for the same feelings.
Yuki focused on two emoticons representing smiley faces that are used in the United States and Japan. Americans use :), whereas the Japanese version of a smiley face is ^-^ .
The Japanese scholar was quoted as saying that the U.S. version of the smiley face emoji comes from a "toothy" smile whereas the Japanese emoji features smiling "eyes."
Many Koreans use the same smiling emoji that the Japanese use.
Older Koreans say, "If you want to know whether your counterpart is telling the truth or not, you should look at their eyes." This cultural thinking seems to be behind Koreans' use of the smiling eyes emoticon.
|Kim Sae-won, an invited professor at Konkuk University Graduate School of Public Administration and director of the Institute for Branding Global Culture / Courtesy of Kim Sae-won|
Kim says understanding global culture is no longer optional for Koreans as the country has become increasingly diverse with a soaring expat population.
"We have foreign marriage migrants and guest workers from many countries. We also have seen an increase in foreign students in recent years," the author told The Korea Times. "To live in an ethnically, racially diverse society, we are not supposed to push people from other cultures to adapt to the Korean way of life. Mothers-in-law who have daughters-in-law from other countries, for example, need to make an effort to understand the cultural upbringing of their daughters-in-law and the opposite also holds true. Such a mutual effort to deepen their understanding of their counterpart's culture is needed."
Kim said her target readers are Koreans who are planning to go abroad to study or work but that her new book is also related to almost every Korean who is curious about foreign cultures.
"People focus on honing local language skill before they head to foreign lands and believe language is enough to adapt to the new culture. But this is not true. People face a host of problems if they don't understand local culture," she said.