[KS] Inquiry from a New York Times columnist

Young-Key Kim-Renaud kimrenau at gwu.edu
Mon Jul 25 08:00:34 EDT 2016

Dear colleagues,

I need to correct myself. What Mr. Ron Lieber's Korean-American friend said
seems to have been a common practice in Korea, after all.

During a small dinner party including a couple of a certain age from Korea
yesterday, I inquired about this topic. The gentleman said he gave the
entire envelope of his first salary (Koreans used to be, and still are in
some cases, paid in cash in envelopes, even for their salaries) to his
mother, along with a set of red underwear. She kept the underwear and gave
back the envelope instantly. He said this was a typical scenario. Clearly
in this case, it was not a matter of one party needing money more than the

A beautifully packaged set of high-quality long johns, undershirts, and/or
socks was a common gift for all occasions, as they were practical and
people didn't need to worry about individual tastes, unlike neckties or
scarves. However, I am still not sure when red underwear emerged as a
symbol of good luck. It certainly wasn't when I was growing up in Korea,
and almost all underwear were of white, beige, or pastel colors, as they
still are today.

This was a case of symbolic gifting, which is rather common even today.
Less frequently but quite noticeably, some special guest lecturers, prize
winners, etc. "donate" the entire envelope of payment to the organizations
paying /rewarding them for their services/achievements, or contribute the
sum to some other causes.

I don't necessarily think the custom of giving cash originates from modern
capitalism or blind greed for money, although the system could certainly be
abused. I think it comes from the community spirit of sharing the burden
when unusual, large expenses for special rituals incur, as for funerals,
weddings, 60th birthdays, and even for hospitalization. In my opinion, when
people are trying to chip in, money certainly is far more helpful than
getting five toasters or table clothes that fit nothing in the house. That
is why in the West they have had the "wedding list," which I had a hard
time recognizing as something stylish for a long time, as I found it funny
for anyone to "ask for gifts."

It's all about kind intentions for good human relations, as all gift-giving
ought to be.



On Sat, Jul 23, 2016 at 9:04 AM, McCann, David <dmccann at fas.harvard.edu>

> Try Googling "Which are the best gifts to give my parents from my first
> salary?"  Or look for 'my first job,' and other related topics.
> Interesting cross-cultural vistas do unfold.
> Also interesting perhaps to note, the shift from a farming, exchange
> economy to a work-for-cash economy is registered in Kim Dong-In's 1925
> short story Kamja, "Potatoes."  A very troubling story, to be sure, but one
> that does grapple with the shift back in the 1920's to the cash economy and
> some of the implications and results.
> David McCann
> On Jul 22, 2016, at 9:16 PM, Young-Key Kim-Renaud <kimrenau at gwu.edu>
> wrote:
> I am not sure if this is a Korean custom, although filial piety is a
> strong cultural tradition in Korea. There is a great deal of variation in
> how filial piety is expressed, but some things are systematic. This is not
> in my opinion.
> However, I have had two colleagues from Taiwan, who did give their first
> paychecks for a full-time job to their parents. It seemed that it was a
> very common practice there.
> Young-Key Kim-Renaud, Ph.D.
> Professor Emeritus of Korean Language and Culture and International
> Affairs
> Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures,
> The George Washington University
> http://eall.columbian.gwu.edu/young-key-kim-renaud
> <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__eall.columbian.gwu.edu_young-2Dkey-2Dkim-2Drenaud&d=CwMFaQ&c=WO-RGvefibhHBZq3fL85hQ&r=ajrk6Uw03wH4RlMujp9kUDDjym5seax6Q9Vt0TDncgc&m=OahsfID5WMWeyPzq8I7T5SuP_Gl88lAtHMx1QzaSVaE&s=z7ta9cGsr74eyTfabdKCvgwJ3FPXN6RyMZFYqkfkt9g&e=>
> 1-703-527-0115, 1-202-994-7106
> On Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 12:38 PM, Clark W Sorensen <
> sangok at u.washington.edu> wrote:
>> I don't have any stories for you on this issue, but my general
>> observation over the years is that the degree of responsibility children
>> feel for helping out their parents financially often corresponds with the
>> amount of education their parents financed. Thus the custom you refer to is
>> most likely prevelent among college graduates, but it may not be found
>> among working class Koreans or Korean Americans.
>> Clark W. Sorensen
>> Korea Studies Program
>> University of Washington
>> On Thu, 21 Jul 2016, Lieber, Ron wrote:
>> Hello -
>>> My name is Ron Lieber, and I write the Your Money column for the New
>>> York Times -- all about anything and everything that hits you in the
>>> wallet. I write often about families and
>>> money -- how not just dollars but also wisdom and values are taught and
>>> passed between generations.
>>> On that note, over the years Korean-American friends of mine have told
>>> me about a tradition where new college graduates (or teenagers or college
>>> students or even some older adults
>>> getting their first paychecks at a new, prestigious workplace) buy a
>>> gift for their parents after they start their first full-time jobs. I've
>>> heard about everything from handing the
>>> entire paycheck over in cash to buying red thermal underwear for both
>>> parents or lingerie for their mothers.
>>> I'm trying to trace the origins of this tradition and write about how
>>> different Korean and Korean-American families interpret it today. I think
>>> it's something that all young adults
>>> might want to mimic in some way, whatever their family background.
>>> If you can help, I'd be grateful for an email reply -- even if it's to
>>> share a story about a gift you've given or received.
>>> Thanks so much...
>>> Ron Lieber
>>> The New York Times
>>> Your Money columnist
>>> lieber at nytimes.com
>>> 212-556-1514
>>> http://nytimes.com/lieber
>>> <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__nytimes.com_lieber&d=CwMFaQ&c=WO-RGvefibhHBZq3fL85hQ&r=ajrk6Uw03wH4RlMujp9kUDDjym5seax6Q9Vt0TDncgc&m=OahsfID5WMWeyPzq8I7T5SuP_Gl88lAtHMx1QzaSVaE&s=TXnwwekc1vDmowwlcoQQRlfAsqvj3Uw0M-QTpCw48Po&e=>
>>> "The Opposite of Spoiled" is my book about how -- and why -- to talk to
>>> kids about money. For more information, visit
>>> http://oppositeofspoiled.com
>>> <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__oppositeofspoiled.com&d=CwMFaQ&c=WO-RGvefibhHBZq3fL85hQ&r=ajrk6Uw03wH4RlMujp9kUDDjym5seax6Q9Vt0TDncgc&m=OahsfID5WMWeyPzq8I7T5SuP_Gl88lAtHMx1QzaSVaE&s=6JvFxMqIKfex51c2Q82lrDbFl3K4yP7GBcncU-U_oK8&e=>
>>> Twitter: @ronlieber
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