Korean Culture

Hello, Counselor is a Korean variety show that has been around a few years. It’s part talk show, part comedy, part Dr. Phil. Some comedians and talk-show hosts regularly host the show, doing a really good job of balancing their comedy gifts with their gift for empathy and wisdom. Occasionally they’ve had a doctor or mental health professional on to help, and always there are a few celebrities to fill out the cast and draw interest. The premise of the program is that every day Koreans (i.E., not celebrities) write in with their issue- we’d call it a Dear Abby letter. Then they get invited on the show to discuss it, often friends or family (sometimes those causing the problem, sometimes for support) will also come on and share their side. The cast will try to draw out the real issues and help resolve any issues, or come to an understanding, or put their problem behind them.
There’s a small studio audience and they then vote on whether this is a real problem or not. This is
abit odd to this American, as it seems dismissive of real heart-ache people might be experiencing, but quite often a ‘not so much’ vote seems to be less about whether the issue was legit and more about whether the issue was likely resolved or not. Other times, the vote that ‘yes, it is a problem’ is supporting the person who write the Dear Abby letter in the first place, that yes, they have something worth being concerned about.

For example, a young wife with a young child was unhappy that her husband went out drinking all the time but wouldn’t let her see her friends, and spent money they didn’t have on his partying habits. The husband didn’t think it was a problem, obviously the mom should stay home with the kid, and he was normal, anybody his age would want to go out drinking with his friends (he’d also held and lost 10 jobs and they lived with his parents). The vote that yes, it’s a big problem was to support the wife adn tell the husband he was being a jerk. I was really curious about how this would play out since drinking with your friends is such a huge and important part of Korean culture, and most of the people there were more understanding and symapthetic than I was, but they also did not accept it. Lee Young-Ja, the female comedian from the regular hosting team, gave him some particular sharp and wise advise. She told him that he needed to stop drinking altogether, because drinking is for adults, and he wasn’t acting like an adult. Until he could be an adult and take care of his responsibilities, she told him, he needed to stop drinking because he was a child and children can’t drink.

Many episodes are just so quintessentially Korean that you have to see them to understand the vast cultural divide. At least three of them have been issues where parents want to bring national attention on an issue their young children are having and ask their fellow Koreans to
At first ,I couldn’t even figure out what the issue was, and then I was shocked when the parents would explain that they tried to hide these children from others at first to protect them from the stares of strangers.

This one is a fabulous example of the look at Korean culture that you just won’t get many better ways from a television show:
My father won’t acknowledge me. A teenage boy who has never been good at much of anything discovers he has a talent for drawing, and he just wants his dad to acknowledge his talent, but his dad says he has no talent, they are useless, and he’s thrown his son’s art on the ground in front of him.
The boy comes on first, and then later we meet the dad who says he does not like the drawings, and he wants his son to study harder and get into college. Then uncle comes and explains, essentially, ‘Please understand my brother, he doesn’t talk easily, he doesn’t compliment well, he is working in an industry that has lost a lot of money in the last few years and is very unstable so he’s afraid.’
The son acknowledges he understands most of that, but his little brother does get complimented, and also his little brother told him his drawings are trash and his little brother is rude to him. The entire adult cast stops and turns to look at little bro and ask if this is true, and to tell him that still, no matter what he cannot be rude to his older brother, that’s not okay. Can you picture this on an American show?
It gets better. The older brother talks about how hard life was for him in middle school. He was bullied and beaten by other kids, and his dad wasn’t sympathetic or helpful and never said anything encouraging to him, and one day he just go so mad at his dad. Then he confesses he swore at his father. The whole studio audience gasps in shock. The cast look stunned. After a moment the host starts to talk to the boy again and then Lee Young-ja gently intervenes and says, “I think we have to say this. No matter how upset you are, you can’t swear at your dad.” Everybody agrees, and the boy willingly gets on his knees and apologizes to his father on national television because he cussed at him once in middle school.
This has been one of my favourite episodes for a number of reasons. I hope you have time to watch it.

Here’s another one, though it’s longer, and comes in two parts.
Part one
Part 2
There’s so much in this one- a fourth grade girl writes to complain about how her grandmother dislikes her and favors the older sister. The irascible grandmother, who is a total hoot while also being just a horrible old woman, the older sister and the mom come on the show. The grandmother is your worst nightmare for a mother-in-law, and the daughter-in-law is so careful about her words but so good at the doublespeak- ‘my mother in law loves me so much she has the passcode to our house and comes in sometimes to make sure the fridge is good and gives me words of blessing to encourage me in house cleaning….’ Yikes.

The grandmother shares how she was treated as a young wife and mother, so she doesn’t see a problem with anything at all. The child has a lot of legitimate complaints and the cast are all sympathizing with her, but at some point she complains about being sent on errands instead of her sister and the sympathy stops cold and they just laugh and say, “But you’re the youngest, so there’s nothing you can do about that. Just run the errands.” They also encourage her to act more cute and do more favors for her grandmother to get into her good graces.

Like I said, so quintessentially Korean you have to see it for yourself, and I hope you do.

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