Give me a K. Give me an O. Give me an R. Give me an E. Give me an A. Put it together and what do you get?! The world’s capital of socks! Sock-selling market stalls litter the Korean streets like, well, litter, back in the UK. They are EVERYWHERE.
The socks are so cute that at home they probably wouldn’t appeal to anyone over the age of 3. But this foot fashion fad is not just a reflection of Koreans and their adorable undying affection for anything cutesy, yes my third grade male students do happily, proudly even, sweep the corridors, pink ‘slippers’ (Korean style slippers are one-banded rubber sandals) on feet, over cute-character adorned socks, clutching hello kitty pencil cases. It’s weaved into the culture. Last week I attended a traditional 설날 (Solnal – Lunar new year) celebration and the only preparatory advice my friend deemed important was ‘no socks is not ok.’ Since beginning my stay in the ROK many Koreanisms, such as waking up to the sound of ajeossi’s hocking up outside my window and hearing almost every ‘h’ ending word suffixed with a ‘y’ – ‘I’m good at Englishy,’ have blended into my daily routine. The religious wearing of socks is one of them. Koreans tend to wear ‘slippers,’ over socks, in school/in the bathroom/roaming the streets in the summer. So as the saying goes, when in Rome… But one would never wear these, or any shoes, inside a Korean home. I think there’s potentially a small jail like contraption, akin to the one that cages Pheobe in that jewellery store episode, ready to pound down on any intruding footwear. I’ll never feel brave enough to test this theory.
Is this because Koreans are religious followers of the ‘socks and sandals’ Jesus fashion? Potentially.
I asked my co-teacher, 김경선 (Kim Kyeongseon), if there were another reason, something cultural perhaps. 아니요 (anneoyo – polite no) she replied. Only that teachers consider sock-wearing to be respectful. So how about when they clock-off/the non-선생님 (sonsaengnim – teacher) populous of the nation?
I’ve formed 2 of my own conclusions. The first, socks in Korea are such great ways to brighten ones day that I’m pretty sure without them everyone’s happiness bar would automatically loose, at least, 50%. The second, it’s a reflection of the ‘floor’ based society of Korea (and often more broadly, Asia). Although natives very proudly advertise their national hero, Samsung, through their religious use of smartphones and the like, it still holds many/most old traditions dear to it’s technologically-advanced heart. There’s nothing central about the heating here, warmth eminates, pretty slowly, from below with Ondol, the Korean underfloor heating system. This house heating tradition has established many core activities as floor-bound, i.e. sleeping and eating. If one is both sleeping and eating on/a mere few inches from the ground, one doesn’t want to be staring at dirty, smelly, tootsies, or even the dirt transferred from them. Essentially, hygenic, to most, it isn’t. I once heard a Korean describe bare feet as ‘dirty’ and I’m fairly sure that’s a widely held belief.
This need for socks, and want for everything to fit an average Westerners view, of something strongly achieving the cuteness level fit for a 3 year-old, has given rise to an excellent source of income for the budding market-selling entrepreneur. Or so it could be. Unfortunately for them, the socks here are so fantastic, and in such high demand, they operate within a perfect competition environment. Perfect for us buyers anyway. For a mere cheonner (천/1,000 won/$1) I can become the proud, day-brightened owner of a pair of comedic/cute/Political leader displaying/cartoon-charactered/inspirational sockaroos. Whether you look down at your tootsies to find Hello Kitty, Obama or a Kpop star staring back at you, you’ll never regret overspending your cheonners on an overfull sock drawer.
Not only can one overspend on ones own sock splendour, but sharing is caring, and it’s easy to care too much when they’re so irresistable. I have bought socks for myself and pals, but have also received some lovely pairs from fellow sock appreciating friends/a student. I’ve created a typical, week in my socks, for you to understand how this mundane, practical piece of attire can become a fun, entertaining and bond-creating part of your life. (If you live in Korea).
Monday’s socks are full of home.
As a keen user of the Nottingham term of endearment ‘duck,’ Laura-lengthened to ‘ducky,’ I purchased this pair as a trio. A pair for myself, to remind me of home, and 2 pairs for my friends at home, to (hopefully) remind them of me.
Tuesdays socks are bursting with kindness.
My thoughtful and kind high-school student 신정 (Sin Jeong) warmed my heart, and my toes, with these as a lovely 24th birthday gift.
Wednesday’s socks are fresh from the toilet.
Never before has a country had such a great relationship with their excrement. Even the poo itself wants a lick. These reminded me of my friend Adrienne, a fellow 똥 (ddong) fan, so I bought a pair for her too.
Thursday’s socks are ‘Hello Kitty’ cutesy!
Korea, neighbour to the home of the famous mouth-less feline, will never fail to indulge your inner-Hello Kitty fan. In true Korean couple-culture style, I bought these for 3, my friends Kendyl, Adrienne and me. A souvenir of our green-tea cookie baking bonding. Read my blog post here.
Friday’s socks hold a wonderful memory. A low point in my Korean adventure became an incredible high when my aforementioned co-teacher 경선(Kyeongseon) saved my ARC card-loosing bum, took me for red bean fish and hot lemonade, then proceeded to treat me to this dotty, in Korean,땡땡이(ddeng ddengy) pair of socks.
Saturday’s socks want to dance the day away.
One doesn’t even need to get on their dancing shoes when Psy’s doing a perfectly fantastic job for you. 오빠 강남스타일 (Opa Gangnam style).
Sunday’s socks marked my first week in Korea.
A pouting pair from the Hanok village of 전주 Jeonju. Pucker up 한국 (Hanguk – Korea). We were in it for the year.
Everyone put your toes up to the socks of SoKo!
Please share your favourite pair!