Valentine’s Day…but not as we know it!

Written by on February 20, 2014 in Lifestyle, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

Well, it’s good that that’s all finished. In all honesty, I was never a big follower of Valentine’s Day but that’s probably because at heart, I’m too practical and too cynical (or at least I like to think I am). The cheesy cards annoy me and it frustrates me how, just as I become accustomed to the new layout of the supermarket after the Christmas disaster, everything is topsy-turvy again to make space for the commercial abomination that is Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day fever in the UK

Valentine’s Day fever in the UK

This may be one of the reasons that I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the news this morning and saw that a group of Shanghai-based singles had bought every odd numbered ticket for a Valentine’s Day showing of Beijing Love Story. Their purpose : to prevent lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day dates. The organiser left a message saying “Want to see a movie together? Sorry, you’ll have to sit separately. Distance makes the heart grow fonder!”.

Very well done!

Very well done!

I thought this was rather hilarious and it seems I was not the only one. For every person leaving a ‘No wonder you’re still single’-esque comment, there were many more praising the group’s efforts with witty comments such as “Oh well, guess they’ll just have to go straight to the hotel room now!”.

Despite my cynical attitude, if Valentine’s Day rolls round and there is someone special, I expect something. I don’t mean to and my brain tells me not to…but I just do. I’ve been conditioned and brain-washed. What can I say?

I wasn't expecting anything.....much.

I wasn’t expecting anything…..much.

So, of course, you can imagine my surprise when I arrive in Korea to find all of my loved-up female friends frantically preparing hand-made chocolates for their boyfriends while all my guy friends are going on with their lives. What was this?!

Perhaps it would be expected that I would already know this….it was my umpteenth (13th?) trip to Korea but this was actually my first time being in Korea around Valentine’s Day…and it’s not something I’m keen to repeat.

Now before all my Western female friends get worried, there IS a day for the girls.

In the UK, we just have Valentine’s Day. Girls love it, guys fear it – well, they fear the inevitable dent in their credit card that comes as a result of Valentine’s Day. There is no repayment, no day for the guys – just Valentine’s Day. Great.

Well, you see, in Korea (as in Japan), they’ve decided to do things their own way and take it one step further. Valentine’s Day is just one day in a calendar full of romantic events.

Getting into the Korean Valentine's Day craze...!

Getting into the Korean Valentine’s Day craze…!

The romantic calendar is kicked off on February 14th with women presenting chocolates to their husbands or boyfriends. Interestingly, “courtesy chocolates” also exist – I’m not quite sure what this is about and Wikipedia and my Korean friends don’t seem to know either so I’ll leave that be for now. The general understanding is that if the woman has made the chocolates herself (quite normal apparently!) then it’s definitely a romantic thing…otherwise it’s open to interpretation?!

Valentine's Day present ready to go!

Valentine’s Day present ready to go!

A representative for CU convenience stores in Korea revealed that Valentine’s Day was one of the most lucrative days of the year, adding that “women tended to go for value for money, while men bought big, flashy baskets”. (I bet it’s because they secretly resent having to buy them in the first place…..I welcome you all to England where you won’t have to!)

But not to worry because a month later, on March 14th, the women have their day and the men are expected to gift their loved ones with candy. In Japan, there is a saying “三倍返し” which means that the present the man gives should be at least three times the value of the gift he received. Apparently this isn’t the same in Korea…but my guy friends have said they definitely feel the pressure to impress! Taking that into account it is somewhat surprising that the most frequently bought gift for White Day is Chupa Chup lollipops….hmmm somebody owes me a LOT of lollipops! Nowadays, presents don’t just involved candy but have extended to include white lingerie, white clothing, jewellery and other gifts.

For those of you who don’t have anyone special – don’t worry because you get a day too! On April 14th, singles head to local Chinese restaurants to chow down on 자장면 or 짜장면 (Korean black bean noodles) to commiserate over their loneliness. Some of my friends actually met their boyfriends while eating noodles on their own…!

Black bean noodles - buy noodles + find a boyfriend!

Black bean noodles – buy noodles + find a boyfriend!

In conclusion, I’m not quite sure what I make of all this.

On one hand, it’s quite sweet and the sensible side of me reluctantly admits that at least it’s fairer – although I’m strongly of the opinion that the dates should be swapped. I don’t see why girls have to wait a month to know if their love is requited or not.

On the other hand, it’s just another excuse for companies to steal our money by conditioning us to believe that love is measured in chupa chups and that our other half doesn’t love us unless we are gifted with increasingly big and wasteful baskets of candy.

I don’t even like candy anyway! What a conundrum.

This year was an interesting Valentine’s Day. Let’s see what happens on White Day!

(One thing – I thought English Valentine’s Day cards were bad…..)

A Korean Valentine's Day card which translates as "Am I pretty?"

A Korean Valentine’s Day card which translates as “Am I pretty?”







About the Author

Anna Darnley

Born and raised in the UK, I'm a 21 year old, final year university student reading BA Chinese and Korean with a minor in Japanese at SOAS. I also speak French and Spanish and I'm studying Russian too. I'm utterly fascinated by the world around me and spend half my time saving for plane tickets, the other half travelling wherever my mood takes me. I'm now back in the UK at university (when I'm not popping back out to Korea at every chance!) Follow me as I explore the Orient!