Posts Categorized: Korean Rites of Passage

Teaching manners pt. 2: 배꼽인사

baeggobinsaSince Alice is competent at bowing her head to greet and thank people, I recently taught her to “배꼽인사” (belly button bow)

I taught this in two stages. First I would gently hold her two hands together at her tummy, as I said “두 손을 모으세요” or “두 손을 모아” However you choose to say this, it becomes a cue for the action of placing one hand over the other at the waist. Then I would give her a familiar cue, which is “안녕하세요~” When she hears this, she already associates it with nodding her head once as a bow.

The second step was to increase the depth of the bow and preferably lengthen its duration. You can add an additional cue, “고개를 숙여요” or an appropriate greeting, such as “감사합니다” or “안녕히가세요.” We used “인사~” and as I said the cue I would gently use my hand to push her body forward just above her bottom. Do not push too far or too fast, as this will throw the child off balance. Your hand should be really light and you should allow the baby to make whatever stability compensations he needs.


If you’ve never seen a toddler perform 배꼽인사 before, you may not know what sort of form to expect. Toddlers are very good at keeping their centre of balance slightly forward so they are more likely to fall forward, but if you push them too far forward, they stabilise themselves by bending their knees.

A toddler’s correct 배꼽인사 “form” will most likely include deeply bent knees, wide parted feet and often an exaggerated depth of the bow itself (Alice’s head almost touches the floor)

We practise this bow once or twice a day, very casually. Often when Han arrives home or leaves, so she can experience it in context. If you always start the practise with “배꼽인사 하자!” baby will become used to this as an overall cue and you will ultimately be able to drop the step by step cues quite quickly.

The most important thing is to be patient and realistic, a toddler should not be expected to always have perfect manners or to always 배꼽인사 on command. Give plenty of positive encouragement and feedback, but avoid pushing the issue when she refuses.

Teaching manners pt. 1: 주세요~

pleaseI’ve always felt that good manners are basically essential to getting along well with others in Korea. If I want my daughter to feel comfortable in Korean society as she grows up, teaching appropriate etiquette and manners is really important.

Obviously teaching manners begins with modeling the behaviour you wish to see. Among other things, this has meant making simple polite transactions in front of her with my husband, Han and ensuring we always demonstrate polite greetings.

Around 12 months of age, Alice travelled to Korea with me to prepare for her birthday party. My Mother in Law started encouraging Alice to place one hand on the other, palms upwards to ask when she wanted something. When Alice showed signs that she wanted something (at the time she was crazy about 귤 and 한라봉,) 어머님 would demonstrate this hand gesture and clearly say “주세요” then pause before giving the item to Alice. Once Alice had received it, 어머님 would bow her head and say “고맙습니다,” although Han and I have been using “감사합니다” with her instead. (In Australia, we usually say “Ta” when we give something to a baby, “Ta” being a sort of baby version of “Thankyou,” so it is obviously the same lesson, but the Korean way involves gestures and perhaps expects a little more of the baby)

By somewhere around 14 months, I started gently putting Alice’s hands into this position and saying “주세요” and she quite quickly learnt to use this gesture to say please. We also would use a hand to gently nudge her head forward in a nod for  “감사합니다” which she picked up with even greater ease.

For a few months now she has also been adding “니다~” or “은다~” to her “주세요” hand gesture when she wants something.. and the more she wants it the higher and sweeter the pitch, haha! It seems to be an attempt at saying “감사합니다”

So even though she does not yet have a huge vocabulary, Alice is already learning and using basic manners.




Planning Alice’s 100th day (백일잔치)

Alice's 100th day

Though I’ve heard it’s becoming less common, Koreans traditionally celebrated their baby’s 백일, the hundredth day after birth.
There are a couple of reasons behind this tradition, but the one which I found most charming is because the hundredth day is about one year after conception. In Korea, you are a member of the family from the time you are conceived, and so your hundredth day is your first birthday. (This is probably at least part of the reason why they count their birthdays differently to how we do in Australia)

Alice started life in Korea, but was born in Australia and will most likely be raised here for most of her childhood, I want to do as much as I can to help her experience and know both her cultures and so, despite knowing very little about what goes on at a 백일, I set out to prepare one for her.

My mother inlaw told me that these days Koreans usually just set up a pretty table with fruit and rice cake and take some photos, I wanted to have some friends around and a small event.
Han read about various traditions and ideas online. Apparently, once upon a time, Han’s sister would have secretly cut Alice’s hair and then presented the cut hair to me to bring good luck. Since I hate the thought of cutting her hair, I suddenly felt quite relieved that Han has no siblings, however we did cut a few strands to save and give to her when she turns 21.
Usually parents give out a type of white rice cake called 백설기. They believe if they give it to at least 100 people, the baby will live a long life. In return, recipients would give skeins of silk thread, symbolising longevity; or rice, gold or money, symbolising wealth.
For the 백일상 (table) we planned to set three colours of fruit (we chose grapefruit, watermelon and pear) and 미역국 (seaweed soup, which is traditionally eaten post birth by the mother, and subsequently by the child on their birthdays), cooked rice, three types of 나물 (vegetable side dish) – 고사리 (bracken), 시금치 (spinach) and 콩나물 (bean sprout); and three types of rice cake, 백설기, 수수팥떡 and my personal favourite, 두텁떡. We also ordered a 백설기 cake (rice cake cake!) to share the centre stage with our baby.