Seven Arab Things I Found While Watching Korean Dramas
Published: December 31, 2017
It is not uncommon to find many similarities between communities that are commonly viewed as very different. I started watching K-dramas a few years ago, because advertisements for K-dramas kept popping up on my news feed and I was curious. I became hooked after watching Coffee Prince, a 2007 Korean drama about a straight rich man-child who feels conflicted upon falling in love with a boy who is really a girl disguised as a boy. Bizarre plot aside, the drama was chock full of sincerity and laugh-out-loud moments. As I continued to watch K-dramas, I kept noticing things that reminded me of Arabs and the Arab community. In the interest of reminding everyone that people tend to be more alike than they are different, here are seven Arab things I found while watching K-dramas:
- Great respect for the elderly and people older than you in general.
I started school at an international school in the United Arab Emirates. We were expected to show great respect for our teachers, and one of the ways in which we showed respect for our teachers was by always attaching a “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Mrs.” before the teacher’s last name. When we moved back the United States, I was shocked that some students called teachers only by their last names, and when I reached high school, was shocked to find out that upon graduation, we would be free to call teachers by their first names! I still struggle to throw aside this formality, because in my mind, that little title that we added before adults’ last names, while distancing, was a necessary acknowledgement of their greater experience.
I noticed an even greater degree of formality in K-dramas! I witnessed characters only a year apart asking for permission to drop formal speech and adopt the casual speech used between friends and people of similar age. Each person was addressed with a title befitting their age and professional degree, and not using the appropriate title means disrespecting the person with whom you are interacting.
- Living with your parents after you turn 18 and even after you have a job is normal.
In the Arab world, it is perfectly normal, and even expected, for children to live with their parents well into adulthood, until they get married. In my senior year of high school, I saw many of my friends excited that they would be fully independent from their parents and living all by themselves. This was a little baffling to me, since with two Arab parents, I was never told that I had to move out by the time that I turned 18, and my dad even suggested, when I planned to go to a school in a different state, that the whole family move with me!
One of my favorite types of Korean dramas are the ones which are heavily centered on families, because they perfectly embody the heavy family involvement that you see in the Arab world. In the Korean drama Reply 1988, which follows the lives of a group of neighborhood friends during their high school years, after one of the friend’s older sister, a college student, gets arrested for going to a government protest, she returns home, where her father threatens to lock her up forever unless she promises to stop protesting. In another family drama Father is Strange, an angry father shows up at his daughter’s workplace when he finds out that she has become romantically entangled with her boss, whom he views as a weird, somewhat perverted fellow.
- Special greetings.
Each culture has its own set of rules for greeting others. In the United States, in a formal setting, handshakes are commonplace. With friends, you might say hello with a wave or a hug or maybe even just a nod in their direction.
In the Arab world, cheek kisses are a common greeting. When I greet other Arab women, we touch cheeks on either side. Arabs from other regions might give three alternating kisses, or three kisses on each cheek, or several kisses on each cheek. If you meet a beloved old auntie, she might give you two huge wet sloppy kisses on each cheek, a hug with several pats, a kiss on your forehead and several pats on the shoulder. Kissing one’s parents’ hands is a sign of respect, but in my household at least, those are the only hands you should kiss.
In Korean dramas, bows are common. Depending on whom you’re greeting, you might make a short bow, a medium bow, or a deep bow, sometimes with a handshake. On certain occasion, for example, in the New Year, you might prostrate yourself before your parents, grandparents, and other elderly figures in your family as a show of respect.
- More formality between males and females.
In the Arab world, men and women tend to not touch very often or at least to be careful about touching. Part of this is because the Arab world is largely Muslim. It is permissible to hug your sons, husband, father, brother, uncle, nephews, and grandfather, and vice versa, but with other men and women, you have to show extra care. In some parts of the Arab world, cousins are considered as close as brothers, so things are less formal, and in some other parts, not. In any case, the default is that men and women are careful to minimize casual touching as it is considered more courteous and respectful.
In Korean dramas, you will see a similar, but perhaps less strict trend. Relationships between men and women are entered more cautiously and taken more seriously in general, which is very different from American TV shows, where it is not unusual for someone to have a one-night stand or enter a casual relationship.
- Obsession with STEM careers.
In nearly every culture, becoming a doctor is seen as reaching the epitome of success. Many Asian and Arab parents, in TV shows and in real life, encourage their children to become doctors and engineers, rather than teachers and artists, because those are stable and respectable jobs to have. This is much to the frustration of a new generation of young people, who perhaps seek to have more freedom to do what they want in life and desire to have more passion and love for their work.
- Fantastic senses of humor often derived from friendships.
In both Arab TV/films and in Korean dramas and variety shows, a common character is the friend who is more like family. This friend will be there for you whenever you really need them, and the rest of the time, they will be busy mercilessly teasing you over the stupid and embarrassing things you say or do. There is also a lot of slapstick comedy. All in all, I felt that if the Egyptians are the funny guys of the Arab world, then Koreans must be the funny guys of the East Asian world.
- Love for historical dramas.
Have you ever gotten lost in an episode of bab il-hara, one of the most famous Syrian TV shows, which follows the daily, often drama-filled, lives of Syrian families during the period before Syria gained its independence from France? It was the best show airing in Ramadan of 2006, and nothing was more thrilling or exciting than sitting down to watch the daily episode while you broke your fast.
Korean dramas include historical dramas, set during the Joseon or Goryeo eras, which often revolve around sinister plots to overthrow the current ruler, and often show a beautiful and sometimes heart-breaking romance between the two lead characters.
By the way, another thing in common between Arab TV and Korean TV is that shows span a month or a few months with episodes shown frequently (daily or two episodes/week) rather than over a whole season, with winter and summer finales, as with American TV shows.
As you can see, the more you explore a different culture, the more similarities you will find between that culture and your own, and the more kinship you will feel with its people. We hope that you will join us at Al- Wāḥa this summer for a chance to do just that!