“Ai…what to the A…what”? You may be wondering if you are not already versed in common Korean phrases. I have decided that in this post I will educate you on two important words when living here in Korea, besides food and where is the bathroom.
Aigoo- sounds like I-gew. Approximate translation means “good grief”. Useful in many situations where you really want to sigh in disbelief but can’t.
Aegyo- sounds like eh-gyo. It is not an expression, but rather a name that Koreans give to acting cute and flirty. In most cases this involves making some kind of silly face and speaking in baby talk. Usually this is done by the female as a method of flirtation and getting what she wants, however, males do it too. You would think that it would only be done by prepubescent tweens, unfortunately, this is not the case. I have witnessed couples in the their 40s and 50s doing it.
Here is a visual of what aegyo looks like:
Now granted, these two are Idols (pop singers for those of you who aren’t in the know) and they admittedly look adorable in a corny kinda way; though the young man’s masculinity might be questioned in western regions of the world, this however is common practice here for couples.
I bet you can tell how I feel about aegyo by the above image. When I see it in action, it gives me the same sensation as someone running their fingernails violently up and down a chalkboard. It literally makes all the hairs on my neck stand up and an involuntary shudder runs through my whole body.
Once this initial feeling passes, it is truly fascinating to watch it in action. Many men, I will refrain from using the words “all” and “most” as I can’t speak for every Korean man, go crazy when this behavior is directed at them along with the word “oppa” (no, not the Greek way of saying “cheers” before drinking) which means honey or older brother. It is said by a younger woman to a man who is older, whether it is her brother or a man she is interested in romantically. They usually go a little red in the face, start to giggle like five year olds, and succumb to whatever request is made of them.
During the language exchange I went to last week, this topic came up amongst my group. It was a mixed group of women and men, Korean and American, twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. I believe we got on the topic due to someone suggesting an aegyo competition to see which one of us Americans has mastered this art Korean art of “seduction”. Myself and another person balked immediately, exclaiming how we did not find aegyo sexy at all, and couldn’t understand what the attraction was. The Korean men, most likely because of their limited English, could not articulate why they liked it. The younger American lady decided do show us her skills by doing the counting version of the aegyo (here is a video of a male idol doing a version of it):
They guys went nuts after she finished, giggling and clapping like school girls. I asked her, “why do you think people like it so much?” and she said “let me try it on you”. And she preceded to do so…and, I couldn’t help but smile. It is truly one of the cheesiest things you will ever see. But, honestly you can’t help but giggle. The young American said “see, you smiled. You couldn’t help it could you? This is why it works, because everyone feels good when they are smiling”. And that is when I had the aha moment. Aegyo is really not about being sexy. It is about breaking down the wall of whatever, be it anger, annoyance, resistance or such, and just getting someone to smile.
Once I realized what the true purpose of aegyo was, I have to say, it has grown on me just a little. I still find it a bit cringe worthy but now instead of this
I feel this
So bring on the aegyo Korea!