I think I have always assumed people who read this blog has a pretty good idea about Korea/Korean. For the new learners, here’s a short explanation. Sorry, no romanization still. I don’t yield to that. ^^
언니: term used by female to refer to an older sister or close older female friend
오빠: term used by female to refer to an older brother or close older male friend
누나: term used by males to refer to an older sister or close older female friend
형: term used by males to refer to an older brother or close older male friend
As you may have read elsewhere, kinship terms and terms addressing people in Korea carry a lot of hidden meaning, nuances and the above explanations are the bare minimum. Using the wrong term can cause embarrassment, discomfort, anger, disrespect etc. Beware. Of course, the rules are more lax towards foreigners, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of it.
Being the foreigner ‘elder’ is really weird. Older Koreans are supposed to care for their dongsaengs and it’s common for the 오빠 to pay for the meal when dining out with a younger friend. The reasoning is that when the same person dines out with a older friend, the older friend will pay – so it kinds of even out?
So.. does that (and other nuances) apply to the foreigner noona / unni?
First, will they even accept you and call you that appropriately?
My experiences are mixed. Korean girls have no qualms calling me 언니. Guys.. they have some reservations. My 1 year younger guy friend told me openly that calling me 누나 is weird and thus call me 샤나. Another same age guy calls me 누나 at times and keep telling me ‘누나~~ 밥 사 줘’ (noona, buy me a meal). -.-
Do they attach the same expectations to the foreigner noona / unnie?
In my case. Not really. They treat you with the same respect – pour drinks for you, set the dining table etc but somehow I feel that Koreans do that for all foreigners.
How do I feel as a foreigner noona /unnie?
PROTECTIVE. hahaha. Weird. But I feel like I need to take care of my dongsaengs. I try to look out for them when I go out with them and especially if they start drinking a lot. O.o As for the guys, I just feel a sense of fondness for them. I don’t really have many younger guy friends and out of them, only some of them are close enough to call me noona or treat me as one.
But I don’t abide by the noona-should-pay idea. For the main reason that I’m a foreigner on a low budget in Korea.
But I’m super happy on the accepting end of the oppa-pay idea
I think I will treat them for a meal if they come to Singapore. When I’m more of the host. My dongsaengs generally don’t expect that I pay in Korea.
It’s funny. I laugh whenever I’m addressed as noona. It’s weird. I don’t feel out of the place with unnie but noona is just… awwww. I’m super happy when my friends call me that. I feel accepted into their social circles.
Being the foreigner noona / unnie is awesome. You get the respect, the sense of closeness but none or little of the obligations that come with it.
What’s your experience? Do share