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Why Do Koreans say "Did you eat?" Instead of "How are you?"

The phrase "밥 먹었어" is not necessarily a replacement for the English phrase "How are you?" Instead, it serves a different purpose in Korean culture.

Twice's Chaeyoung eating a delicious slice of pizza!
Twice's Chaeyoung eating a delicious slice of pizza!

The phrase "밥 먹었어" (pronounced "bap meogeosseo") is a casual way of asking someone if they have eaten in Korean. This expression has been commonly used in Korean culture for a long time, and its origins can be traced back to traditional Korean values and customs. Let's break down why this simple phrase is so interesting!

The historical context of Korea, particularly the period following the Korean War (1950-1953), greatly influenced the cultural significance of food and sharing meals in Korean society. During that time, Korea faced significant economic challenges, and many people struggled to have enough food to eat. As a result, sharing a meal became a symbol of generosity, kindness, and hospitality.

The Korean War (1950-1953):

The Korean War was a significant conflict that took place from 1950 to 1953 between North Korea, supported by China and the Soviet Union, and South Korea, supported by the United Nations, primarily led by the United States. The war resulted in a division between North and South Korea that continues to this day.

During the Korean War, the entire Korean Peninsula faced immense devastation. The conflict resulted in widespread destruction of infrastructure, displacement of people, and loss of lives. The war also caused severe disruptions to the economy and food production, leading to widespread food shortages and hunger.

Korean children line up during the Korean War
Korean children line up during the Korean War

In this context, the phrase "밥 먹었어" (Have you eaten?) gained even more significance. It became a way for people to express concern for each other's well-being and to acknowledge the difficulties and struggles they were facing due to the war. Asking if someone had eaten was not just a simple inquiry about their meal; it carried a deeper meaning of empathy, solidarity, and shared hardships.

Even after the Korean War, the cultural significance of "밥 먹었어" continued to resonate in Korean society. It became ingrained in everyday conversations as a way to show care and concern for others, regardless of whether they were facing food shortages or not. It served as a reminder of the collective experience during the war and the strength of the Korean people in overcoming adversity together.

Sakura from Le Sserafim was hesitant to answer when asked, "밥 먹었어?" (How are you?)
Sakura from Le Sserafim was hesitant to answer when asked, "밥 먹었어?" (How are you?)

Over time, the phrase "밥 먹었어" (Have you eaten?) became a common greeting, reflecting the cultural value placed on sharing meals and demonstrating care for others' well-being

Today, while the memory of the Korean War still lingers, the phrase "밥 먹었어" has become a cultural greeting that reflects the enduring values of empathy, unity, and hospitality within Korean society.

It's important to note that language and expressions naturally evolve over time, influenced by social dynamics, cultural changes, and linguistic trends. While "밥 먹었어" has been used for a significant period, the specific reasons for its emergence and widespread usage may be challenging to pinpoint with absolute certainty.

Have you ever been asked, "밥 먹었어?" while in Korea? Share your stories and experiences with us in the comments below!


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