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The Korean Female “Cutsie” Act

February 6, 2009

I’ve noticed for some time that some Korean women have a tendency to talk in a high voice and have a kind of coquettish, childlike way about them. Enough to recognize a pattern. So I talked to a couple people and got some perspectives. I have a good friend who is a Korean-American woman, who explained it thusly:

“There are two terms that describe that sort of thing. The first that would more closely resemble your description would be: Ae-gyo 애교 (noun) / 애교 부리다 (verb) — This is when a girl puts on her “cutsie” or “coquettish” mode in order to please or charm a guy to get what she wants from him, often displaying child-like gestures and behavior such as mock whining or pouting and the use of a baby-like voice. Something that would be reminiscent of a daughter’s behavior in front of her father, but with a more grown-up/sexual twist. But this term can also be used in a positive context, describing someone who is affable and winsome. (그 아이는 참 애교가 많다. / 애교스럽다. That child is very affable and winsome.)”

Another concept, which is different (but similar in some ways) is nae-soong 내숭 (noun) / 내숭 떨다 (verb) — This is when a girl behaves with false modesty or is being coy. A Chinese girl once complained to me that Korean girls are fake: they say “Oppa!” and act coy and coquettish around guys, then when they are away from guys, just with each other, they talk in their normal (deeper) voice, they smoke, they are loud. Viewed through her cultural lens, this is fakeness.

What’s really happening here? We’ve got women adopting a particular set of behaviors in order to produce a particular appearance. If I don’t talk about another culture, then it isn’t comparative cultural analysis (its ethnography), so let’s put this in context. Does that happen in other cultures? Youbetcha!

I’ll make this one interactive, though: can any of my dear readers think of any situations (in ANY culture) in which someone adopts a particular set of behaviors in order to produce a particular appearance, which may be incongruent with how they normally speak and/or act?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 3:57 pm

    I just found your blog – linked from Running with Chopsticks, if you’re keeping track.

    I’ve always equated Ae-gyo with tantrum. When a girl doesn’t get her way, she might say, “O-pa~a~” and stomp her feet a few times.

    It, or other forms of Ae-gyo, can be cute but definitely are part of a cultural divide.

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