When in Korea, be Ready for an Awkward Question “How Old Are You?”
HOW OLD ARE YOU? AGE DETERMINES ROLES IN THE RELATIONSHIP
If you are meeting someone for the first time in Korea, don’t panic if you are asked for your age on a very first meeting. While you might find the age question a bit too personal (depending on the culture you come from), there is a good explanation for this habit.
That is, Korean people put a strong emphasis on the senior person’s roles and responsibilities of taking care of the juniors in the relationship, while the junior is expected to show respect and discipline towards the senior in return. Hence, the “How old are you?” question is crucial in gauging and determining how one will interact with the new person.
One of the biggest perks of being younger than your Korean friend is that he/she would often insist on paying for your meal! In return, you can show respect by setting up the utensils and pouring drinks[i] (many casual Korean restaurants have this “self-serve system” where you have to do the setting up).
Knowing this, some people go as far as lying and overstating their age in an attempt to have the upper hand in the relationship, which often gets debunked with the help of a mutual friend (same age as you) unexpectedly bumping into you (it is a really awkward scene indeed).