Fun Things Korean Moms (Umma) Say And Do

Korean moms are some of the most quotable people on the planet.

Whether you want to understand yours or are just curious about “umma” featured in K-dramas, we’re here to decode their unique language and behavior.

Here are 10 things they say and do that you might have noticed.

Lingua Asia Things Korean Moms Say

Key Takeaways

  • Umma is how Koreans call their mom.
  • Korean moms say it’s totally fine to eat food after the expiration date.
  • Umma will say “If you eat and lie down right away, you become a cow.”

What do Koreans call their mom?

First things first. Koreans call their mom “umma (엄마)“.

Young kids say “umma (or eomma)” and grown-up children use “omoni (or eomeoni)“.

Omoni feels a bit too formal and distant, so it’s often used when referring to a mother-in-law or by a super polite kid.

1. Alarms are useless

Lingua Asia Korean Mom Wake up 30 minutes before the alarm
When your alarm is set to 7 AM, Korean moms will wake you up at 6:30

For some reason, Korean moms always wake you up 30 minutes earlier than the alarm.

It’s probably because they’re worried you won’t be on time for school or work, but you’ll end up begging, “Let me sleep five more minutes!”

I actually found a solution to this recently. I just wake up at 5 AM before my parents get up.

2. “Come and eat” is a trap

Lingua Asia Korean Mom Empty Table
Well, it’s not a dining room, but the same energy.

Korean moms scream to the top of their lungs every morning, saying “Bap (rice or meal/food) is ready. Come and eat”.

When you leave the sanctuary of your room, you’ll only find an empty table and umma in the middle of cooking.

I know this doesn’t make any sense, but let’s try to understand that your Korean mom just wants to feed you warm food.

3. Expiration dates are more like guidelines

Lingua Asia Korean Mom Its okay to eat food past expiration date
I love soy milk. It has a long shelf life.

Korean moms say it’s totally fine to eat food after the expiration date.

They believe that dairy products can last well over a week, and things in the freezer will never go bad.

When these don’t get eaten by you, they’ll end up on your father’s plate.

📌 Similarly, umma never throw away anything after it expires. I had to dump all the expired shampoos, conditioners, soaps at my parent’s house much to their chagrin.


4. You never eat enough veggies

Lingua Asia Korean Mom Eat more veggies
I really like veggie banchan, but come on ma! I’ve been eating for an hour.

Korean moms urge you to eat more veggie banchan, not just the meat ones.

It doesn’t matter whether you just had a mouthful of greens.

She will still go ahead and put a lot of vegetables on top of your rice bowl, whether you like it or not.

Likewise, I’m not a big fan of seafood, and yet my mom still tries to feed me it all the time.

Let’s take a deep breath here and not get irritated. It’s a sign of their love and that they care about you.

5. Phones are the devil

Lingua Asia Korean Mom I'm about to study or work
I’m serious. I’m about to study/work.

As soon as you decide, ‘Okay, I’ll stop looking at my phone and start studying now’, your Korean mom spots the moment like a tiger that never misses its prey.

She won’t give you any time to explain, but will unload the nagging bomb with, “Stop checking your phone. When will you study?”

Korean kids always explain, “I was gonna study! Ughhhh, now I don’t want to.”

In their defense, they want a better future for you, and being book smart is the only way they know to be successful back in Korea.

Bonus Round: Korean Moms to Daughters

When you’re 0-27 years old, Korean moms will be like: “Never date a guy, and don’t even think about staying out overnight.”

As soon as you turn 28, they ask, “When will you get married?”

It’s not just Korean moms, right…?

6. “No whistling at night”

Lingua Asia Nodeul Island Seoul Korea
Nodeul Island photo I took in Seoul, Korea

Korean moms believe that if you whistle at night, a ghost or snake will appear.

It sounds so random, but it’s because of the strangeness and high pitch that whistling makes.

Another reason is that snake hunters in the old days used to whistle to charm their prey.

If you’re still not sure why they say this, imagine that dark spooky vibe at night during the 19-20th century as shown in historic K-dramas. Spooky.

7. “Never stand on a doorsill or in a threshold”

Lingua Asia Gyeongbokgung Doorsill
When the doorsill is this tall, might as well not step on it.

Koreans believe that when you stand in a threshold, your luck will run away.

This actually originated from Korean funeral culture.

According to the local custom, a doorsill or threshold is considered the boundary between this world and the otherworld (or this life and afterlife, 이승저승). So, Korean moms warn you not to touch them carelessly.

8. “Shake your legs, shake off your luck”

Lingua Asia Me and my friend's dog
Just a random picture of me and my friend’s dog, J. I may have been shaking my leg.

Korean moms/dads and grandmas/grandpas all hate it when someone shakes their leg.

It just got me curious, so I looked up the origin story. The folk tale goes like this:

Once upon a time, there lived a physiognomist, or a fortuneteller who reads people’s facial features.
One day, he stayed at a poor person’s house as a guest.
The physiognomist looked at the house owner who had the face of a rich man, different from his current situation.
The physiognomist found it odd.
In the middle of the night, he saw that the house owner was sleeping while shaking his legs/kicking his feet.
The physiognomist finally guessed why the owner was living in poverty, and that night he broke the guy’s leg with a sledgehammer and ran away. They went hard in the old days.

After that, everything went smoothly for the house owner, and he quickly became rich.
A few years later, the physiognomist stumbled upon his house again and asked to stay overnight.
The physiognomist asked the house owner what happened after he lost his leg, and he replied that he could live without one because he’s now rich.
The physiognomist informed him that he was the one who broke his leg and ran away.

The rich man thanks the physiognomist and treats him very generously.

Well, there you have it. Keep your legs in check!

9. “Don’t trim your fingernails or toenails at night”

Lingua Asia Get your nails done during the day
Is that why nail salons are only open during the day?

After school or work, you gotta trim your nails when you can, like in the evening, right?

That logic doesn’t apply to Korean parents.

They’ll still tell you not to.

I happened to know why and it’s based on a cute superstition in Korea.

When you trim your nails at night, a rat will secretly eat them. The next day, the rat turns into you and walks around pretending to be you. And we can’t have that.

10. “If you eat and lie down, you become a cow”

Lingua Asia Cute cow on Jeju
Some cute cows I met on Jeju Island

You probably heard this a lot from Korean parents.

This one is also based on an old nursery story.

Once upon a time, there was a lazy kid/guy who always ate and lied down right after.
His family and friends told him he would become a cow if he kept doing so.
The lazy guy said it would be nicer to live a leisurely life as a cow grazing on grass.

One day, an old passerby gave him a cow-shaped mask and told him he could become a cow if he wore it.
The lazy guy thought it was a good idea and he turned into a cow as soon as he put it on.
He freaked out and struggled, but the old man quickly put a leash on him.

The old man sold him as a cow to a farmer at the market, and said, “Whip this cow a lot because it’s lazy. Also, never feed it radishes because it will die.”
The cow worked all day every day while getting whipped.
Life was so painful; he wanted to just end it and saw a radish.
Remembering what the old man said about dying, the cow ate it.

Magically, he returned to his human form.
He went back home and lived a very diligent life after learning his lesson.

And that’s why you never eat and lie down kids.



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