Why are Koreans so superficial

How do I date correctly in Korea?


by Sören Kittel, 09/17/2015

Lee Myeong Gil used to be a Casanova and now, as a family man, he advises those who cannot find relationships

Dating coach Lee Myeong-Gil

Lee Myeong-Gil has very white teeth. They are so white that they stick out from his mouth. This underlines his perfect appearance: the short-sleeved shirt tightens the biceps, the hairstyle sits perfectly on his head as if carved out of stone and the handshake is as firm and confident as the piercing greeting. Everything about Lee Myeong-Gil adapts to the other person, and he has to, because commitment is his business model. He knows more about data than almost any other South Korean other than himself. White teeth are not as important as healthy self-confidence, he says: "You should ask yourself if you are someone you would date?" You should answer yes to this question every day.

Lee Myeong-Gil is also a little good at talking: at the age of 34, he completely fulfilled his personal wish list: He wanted a wife, a family, an income of over 100,000 dollars a year and a book to be written. His ninth book has just been published, it is - like everything in his life - about data. All of the success also has to do with the fact that Lee Myeong-Gil has his dating agency headquartered directly at the “Gangnam” station, right in the middle of his target group, you could say. “Most of my clients are female, in their mid-30s and single.” With his agency “Duo”, he wants to help them find a partner for life. With tricks, courses, instructions and lots of clever sentences. More than 500 television appearances have enabled him to repeat the most important problems faced by women today in his sleep.

“In the past,” he begins, “marriage meant the end of a social life for women.” But today Koreans are economically independent. That also means: you don't need the man. Lee says: “Men don't want to become 'roller shutter men'.” This is the derogatory term in Korean for the husbands who lower the shutters in their wives' shop in the evenings. "I advise my clients that they shouldn't fix a broken lamp at home, but rather ask a friend of theirs to do it - that flatters them."

A Korean couple in "Love Land" on Jeju Island - a park with 140 statues on the subject
Love and sexuality. "Love Land" is a popular destination for Koreans.

Dates is still largely a conventional way of getting to know someone in South Korea. In rare cases this happens in pubs or at parties. Most dates are still preceded by the question to friends: “Do you know someone who would suit me?” Then the two of them go out together, and if things go well, they meet again. If not, you keep asking in the circle of friends - from the age of 30 the parents also start suggesting a partner. “Sogeting” is the Korean word for such a “blind date”, a way of getting to know each other, for which there are now several apps, but only in Korean. They mostly look similar to Tinder, only with little cartoon kittens as icons.

Dating coach Lee Myung-Gil first teaches his clients to find the right balance when flirting, i.e. the time before the date. “Everyone wants data, but nobody taught them the right rules.” He says that small talk and getting to know each other are often a problem in Korea - both when meeting and chatting. “Some women text too often or expect too much,” he says, “and men have to learn to hand out compliments.” Even the handshake at the beginning of the evening is something he has to teach his protégés first. It is the same with code words that even many Koreans still misunderstand. One of the most famous is the phrase: "Would you like to eat ramyon (noodles) with me?". Lee says that still many don't know that this is an invitation to sex.

The sentence originated around ten years ago after a singer repeatedly raved about eating pasta in the chorus. Since then, Koreans have been speaking more openly about having a loose relationship with one of their friends. Men then say they have "Some" with a woman. That comes from the English word for "something", so you have "something with each other". In Korean, this works as a verb: I some, you somest, we somen. Maybe you just go to the cinema together or you take photos of a couple with a selfie stick - or you meet in one of the many love hotels that are in every Korean city. Nobody should know about it: It is not for nothing that the “New Yorker” recently wrote about Seoul that the city had technology from the year 2050 and the moral standards from 1950. The best cell phones in the world are made here, but parents disinherit their daughters, if they move in with their boyfriend unmarried.

(Photos: Sören Kittel)

Lee knows these limitations of his customers and was employed enough even in his youth. “I used to be a Casanova and now I live like the Dalai Lama.” In his youth he could easily persuade women to go on a date, now he concentrates on being a good father to his children. When he thought about what he could do best after graduating, he thought: get to know women. So he came to the partner agency and introduced himself as a couples therapist, saying that he was familiar with all age groups and walks of life. But the boss rejected him. Lee went to the men's bathroom and handed out his business cards to each of the love seekers who passed there. The boss noticed this - and finally hired him.

Since then he has been teaching singles about correct dates. Lee Myeong-Gil has rules for the perfect rendezvous: "It should always take place Thursday around sunset, around 6:30 pm." Thursday is close to the weekend, but not yet burdened with the private appointments on Saturday, and at sunset the light shines most gently on the face. Studies have shown that the best date lasts an average of two hours and 27 minutes. But even if it is shorter, there is still no need to worry. Women don't have to be on time and men have to be able to wait. Then Lee speaks of the sitting posture ("preferably with the wall behind you", so that the person you are talking to has as little distraction as possible), of alcohol (little, no soju schnapps) and finally of topics that should be avoided: computer games for men and desire for children for women. "The bill is still paid by the man, and the coffee is now mostly paid by the woman," says Lee Myeong-Gil. But because the dessert cafés in Korea have meanwhile upgraded, the difference is now mostly minimal.

Gangnam, where the office is located, is the perfect place for this. Nowhere else in the country is a place charged with more hope: Here many young, good-looking people walk through the streets, undergo surgery to play with the naturally beautiful people, and here in Gangnam clothes look even more expensive than they already do already in many parts of Seoul. The "Gangnam Style" is of course known to Lee, the PSY song that criticizes the superficiality of Koreans. And yes, he takes care of his appearance, grooms himself, brushes his teeth and does sports regularly. But Gangnam always reminds him that it is ultimately not just the outside that counts: "With all the distraction in Gangnam, it is much more important to focus on listening." He also has to tell his clients this again and again: " Turn off the mobile phone! ”For that reason alone, he will still have a lot of work to do in the next few years. "Just as we have to eat and sleep, we have to love - and for that we have to date, luckily."

Photo: private

Sören Kittel was a freelance journalist in South Korea and is currently the editor of the Funke media group in Berlin.