A Korean Winter Mystery

The past couple of weeks have seen the temperature drastically drop to below freezing- winter, along with a hefty lot of snow, has officially arrived. As such, the coats are back out, everyone is dressed up in their warming, winter gear. But there is one big difference between Koreans and foreigners and how they wear their winter clothes, and it’s something which puzzled me last year and has remained a mystery until now: why do (99% 0f) Koreans wear their coats inside?

It might seem like a trivial matter, but it really confuses me. It’s freezing in the corridors of most buildings, sure, but once you’re inside a warm room, why not remove your huge jacket? In our school, the corridors are usually colder than outside, but the classrooms (mine especially as I hate the cold with a passion) are nice and toasty warm. So why don’t my students take off their coat? I own a Korean winter coat, and I know how deliciously warm they are. In fact, I can get too warm when I’m outside and wearing mine. So how are the kids not sweltering? (And it’s by no means just the kids which follow this tradition- most adults also remain attached to their coat throughout the day too).

There’s a few reasons why I find it strange:

1) The obvious- they must be boiling hot.

2) They have nothing to put on when they go outside into the freezing cold- most people would at this point put on a coat to make them warmer, and so ready to face the cold outside, but if you’re already wearing one, you have no layers to add to make you warmer when you venture into lower temperatures. 

3)Quite simply, coats are for wearing outside. Especially the heavy-duty coats which most Koreans wear in winter. They’re designed for freezing temperatures, not a heated classroom. It can’t be healthy…

Believe me, I’ve asked many of my students why they insist on wearing their coats- especially when they complain of being ‘too hot’ or turning off the heating. (Umm, maybe you’re hot because you’re wearing a quilted, fur-lined puffer jacket? On top of your thick winter blazer, no less.) I never get a proper answer. In fact, the most common answer is ‘My mum thinks I’ll lose it if I take it off’. Well, that’s not a great reason. Firstly, you’d have to be pretty forgetful (and blind) to leave a huge, bright red coat on your chair without noticing, and secondly, if you have that attitude, you’d never put anything down for fear of losing it. Imagine never being allowed to let go of your bag, or purse, or never taking off your gloves in case you forget to pick them up.

Apart from that, I never really hear a real reason why people wear their coats inside. It remains a mystery to me. So please, if you can enlighten me, if there is some myth or superstition about why you shouldn’t take your coat off inside, let me know. Or else I’ll remain clueless for another winter…

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6 thoughts on “A Korean Winter Mystery

  1. I love reason number 2, it reminds me of taking off my coat (even in cold indoor spaces) so that I would ‘feel the benefit’ when I went outside again! All the fashion shops in Malaysia stock the winter ranges even though we don’t have a winter here which always strikes me as odd. Perhaps people just like to dress the part?

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  2. Haha glad you agree about reason number 2..it’s something my mum always told me to do, take my coat off inside or you wouldn’t benefit! That’s hilarious that Malaysia also stocks the coats- I imagine that you’d boil if you wore one there!

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  3. I think it may be a.throw back from . ancient times when houses were always quite cold and drafty as they weren’t very well sealed. I also think there’s an element that koreans are genuinely conditioned to have one . thought. That being snow= cold and being inside is irrelevant to . the situation. My.korean husband is a classic example of this he.insists on wearing his. Thermals or big thick winter pajamas and sleeping under the thickest winter blanket i have ever seen and setting the.heating to at least 20 degrees Celsius. In the meantime i find it so hot that i sweat in my sleep.

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  4. I’m from Finland, so the Korean winter does nothing to me, but the keeping-my-coat-on trend has caught on to me here. Personally, I do it for two reasons.

    1. The Korean coldness is different from the Nordic freeze. Back home, the cold weathers are dry to the extent where your hands get chapped the moment you forget your gloves home, and your lungs ache from breathing without a scarf in between the air and your mouth. However, in Korea (until it hits -20C, at least, like a couple of years ago), I find it’s damp indoors even when it’s cold. I’m not allowed to leave the heater on when I leave my place, and when I come back to find it’s +15 inside, my bedsheets are wet and freezing cold. It’s the kind of horrible cold that creeps into your bones and sticks to your clothes, as opposed to the Finnish cold which basically goes away with wearing more in the morning. So, if I take my coat off, my clothes get cold, and wearing the coat again does not help one bit when I go outside! My body temperature is also very low, so if my clothes get cold, I’m freezing to the point of catching the flu. Granted, I don’t feel the need to wear one of the ridiculous padded downs because -5C to me means early October weather and not real winter, but I imagine a lot of people are doing it to keep the dampness from their clothes. Also, as you’ve probably noticed, insulated windows aren’t really a thing in Korea (nor are triple-glaced windows, I really do miss those!) so as soon as the wind gets stronger or someone decides to turn the heating down, it gets cold very fast. Staying indoors for a longer period of time, I feel it’s easier to protect myself from the cold by continuously wearing my coat rather than having to take it off and put it back on soon after.

    2. I’m lazy to dress up when it’s cold, so I wear my coat indoors in order to hide the fact that I’m wearing the same jumper over the rest of my clothes for the 10th day in a row because it’s the warmest piece of indoors clothing I own. 😀

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