Korean Hugs vs American Hugs

Check out the comparison below. And you’re a liar if you don’t see the difference!

Original Free Hugs video (in Australia, but essentially same form and technique as American hugs)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4]

vs “Free Hugs Seoul” with Korean-style hugs described below
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKILQPBcVTI]

Note: I’m mostly talking about my experience with hugging between friends or family. Not bf/gf!

One of my most favorite people in the world is a friend that I’ve known since nursery school. She’s super sweet, smart, tons of fun, and when she speaks Chinese with her mom, it is the most beautiful thing in the world. But more than super awesome sounding Chinese, one of the biggest reasons I love her is because of her hugs. She gives the best… hugs… EVAR. Her hugs are actual embraces. They have just the right amount of pressure and strength. And on top of that, every hug she gives is straight genuine, yo. Full of love and affection. And she’ll randomly hug someone for no reason simply because she wants to at that moment. She is probably the best hugger that I know! (My mom is up there too, but her hugs are super uncontrolled, so it’s too much to handle sometimes!)

As someone who grew up in America, I’ve learned to really appreciate good quality embraces. But a quality hug in America is very different than a quality hug in Korea. And I sure do miss American style hugging.

  • For one, hugging between the opposite sex is not as common as it is in America. And let’s be real here. There’s not many reasons for me to hug dudes. So that all equals me getting way less hugs here in Korea. :(
  • Second, when I do get/give a hug, it’s usually an arm hug. Minimal body contact with the arms doing most of the work. I will typically reach for the head/neck area, but friends will usually give an underarm hug. This usually results in uneven leverage for decent hug pressure and strength.
  • Third, many of the hugs I give are one-sided. I’ll be super glad to see a friend I haven’t seen in a long time and be like: “I missed you!” and go in for a big embrace. My female friends, however, will usually just take it and wait. Usually I’ll get a few pats on the back and an awkward “I missed you too.” But most of the time it kinda feels like they’re just waiting for it to be over. ha!

Living here, I’ve learned to give Korean-style hugs. So if you’re a dude hugging a Korean female friend, try following my half-serious (mostly nonsense) step-by-step guide!

How to Give Korean Style Hugs

  1. Don’t go for the full-on embrace. Those are typically reserved for Korean drama mama type moments, like breaking up at a subway station.
  2. Keep bodily contact to a minimum. To do this, stick your butt out and hug with arms around the neck. Some shoulder contact is acceptable, but avoid boobage if possible.
  3. Pay attention to your timing. Naturally, hugs (even in Korea) can’t be too short. If you have a 1-pat hug and break, might as well be giving a pound to your homie. But you definitely want to make sure you don’t hug too long. Your female friend just might get the wrong idea!

Haha, alright, I’ve had my fun :) But still very true! If you know what I’m talking about, holla at me in the comments!

36 thoughts on “Korean Hugs vs American Hugs

  1. Liza★ says:

    Interesting, I notice the difference in both videos, Koreans seem more shy when it comes to giving hugs haha and I notice that most of the hugs the boy recieved in the second video were from foreigners hehe

  2. Genjerleigh says:

    Mostly going by all the kdramas I watch, I’m surprised that koreans would go up to hug a stranger. It just seems like too intimate a gesture to share with someone you don’t know. The hugs in the Korean video remind me of hugs btw. hetero men in the US who hug but want to make it clear its a manly, non gay hug. Don’t get too close and the all important pat on the back.

  3. Kai says:

    I’ve seen free hug in korean during I travelled there. KOrean people seem to be shy when gonna get free hug. ^^ last time i got free hug at명동 too.Your topic that make me see the different style of free hug. thank a lot!

  4. I think I have pretty high expectations for hugs. A sub-par hug leaves me feeling really unsatisfied. Sadly, sub-par hugs are all too common.

    I haven’t had many hugs in Korea. Not even sub-par hugs. I have a friend (male, British, I’m female, Pakeha, New Zealander) who always greets me with a hug, and it makes my day. To me, a hug is how you greet a good friend, and then how you say goodbye, and maybe somewhere in between there’ll be reasons to hug(even if it’s ‘just coz’).

    A month after I got to Korea I greeted a Korean friend with a hug. I had met him in NZ where he was studying last year. He was the only person I knew in Korea when I moved here, and this was the first time I’d seen him since moving to Korea. In my mind it was a hug moment for sure. Alas, it was a sub-par hug.

    I’d persisted with hugging him in NZ, even though he seemed a bit uncomfortable with it at first. I figured he could handle it, after all I knew him through swing dancing, which is a partner dance. I think he came to accept that it was the done thing, though acceptance is very different from mastering the art.

    When I hugged him in Korea it was at a swing dance bar he goes to a lot. The poor guy had to spend the rest of his evening introducing me (that part was easily translated), then conveying back to me that his friends thought I was pretty (he kindly translated that for me). Then the Korean conversation would continue but the translation would stop. I didn’t need translation though. I could tell by the friends excitement and his blushing they were asking if I was his girlfriend. That one hug set the poor guy up for a night of interrogation and trying to convince his friends that the girl who so gleefully hugged him was not romantically interested.

  5. jimjim says:

    Ha i had to hug a co-teacher i haven’t seen for 2 years , and yeah she gave me a weird korean half hug. it was awkward. i’ll use your guide next time

  6. Hugs in My country, (Nairobi, Kenya) come with all sorts of disclaimers. Hugging in public is acceptable between young people… teens, University students, People in their late twenties… That kind of thing.
    Higher up in the age ladder is where all the hinjiks lie. Ajjumahs can hug but it’s a total no-no with kenyan ajjoshis. That will earn you the super epic side eye. Ajjoshis HUG NO ONE. And hugs between Kenyan Ajjumahs and Ajjoshis in public is considered wierd … unless it’s clear that they are MARRIED.
    I find that hugs between my american, Australian or French friends are the best ever. Big mushy squeezes that make you break out into a big silly grin. With my Korean Best Friend (I’m sorry Eunhe unnie)… even after 10 years of knowing each is still a bit… stiff. I love her to death anyway.
    I hope this long explanation did not put you to sleep Oppa. Have a great day!! *Big hug goes here*

  7. Ania says:

    I come from Poland and my friend did similar banner to the reggae concert and the reaction of the people was just like in first vid- just great! :)

    • Sarah Curran says:

      The last time I went to Korea it had been over 10 years from the time I went before that. I “naturally” went to give my uncles a big bear hug and they just froze! LOL I later realized how “unnatural” this act is! LOL

  8. Haha you are so right! I’m asian myself but grew up in germany… while studying hangeul I’ve met a lot of korean exchange students. When we hang out having lots of fun, nice talks and stuff, I have the habit to hug them coz it’s common to hug people you like and feel comfortable with right?! But I felt some strange atmosphere when trying to hug korean girls lol! So I’ve learned that hugging is something very intimate thing for korean girls :D. I think there are many types of hugs therefore we need a “how to hug right” for koreans!! hehe I mean I would hug my gf on a different way than with good female friends.
    greets

  9. When it comes to physical contact, the Spanish and Korean culture seem to be opposite. I am American, but also live in a Spanish culture. When greeting a stranger for Americans, it’s just a straight forward handshake. However, in the Spanish culture, you hug and kiss on the cheek. Even with some of my friends, though, I have to be measure how I greet them. If I use a Spanish greeting with the wrong group, they become awkward; a “Why are you kissing me?” kind of moment. XD

  10. John says:

    Haha. xD Aww, this almost makes me sad. If I saw someone doing that I’d get a running start and tackle them like the guy at 1:40 in the Australian video.

    I think this is a change I’d definitely have a hard time making if I visited or moved to Korea. >.>

  11. Ledia says:

    In my country(Albania) we kiss once on each cheek to greet friends every time we meet them and if you are really good friends you hug them too.If you feel like hugging them, you do it.There will be shy persons that will find it a little uncomfortable if you hug them but nobody is going to get the wrong impression.When you meet someone for the first time you just shake hands be it the same or opposite sex, but if they reach to kiss you on your cheek you just let them and kiss them back.This rarely happens but it is not considered rude.

  12. Shannon says:

    I knew that in Korea people didn’t hug as much as in the West but WOW. This is amazing. I live in Brazil (you already know this, but I just like writing it) and we hug all the time. No matter if is the same or the opposite sex. Even if I’m not close to the person. So we give and receive a lot of hugs. I’m not complaining since I love being hugged!
    Only friends of the same sex would hug all the time? And with all the time I mean: I did a joke about you hair and you’re upset. I just go and hug you smiling like “I was kidding”. Or like I fell like hugging someone. Cause sometimes I’ll just hug my friends. I just love hugs <3

  13. #1 thing I miss about America! I do have one friend who refused to acknowledge Korean’s awkwardness with hugs from the start, and now a year and a half later, some of them will actually initiate a hug, but only with her. Wish I had started right away… it’s too late to start a new trend with such high expectations in the physical contact arena.

  14. I have a story about hugs, not in Korea but when I was at school in Japan. I used to live with my friend and her family. When it comes to hug me, she’s not shy because she know me and she lived in France when hugs between friends are common. I received a hug from the family before to live Japan, With the mum and my friend it wasn’t awkward at all, with the older brother (6 years older than me) a little bit (for some reasons that I keep for me :P ) but the shock came with the father. I started to bow and said how much I was thankful for everything he did for me, but I stand up he gave me a huge hug and said that I was one of his kids know, no joking, I was surprised and happy because I know that it’s not an usual thing to hug people in Japan ( and Korea too) and at that time everyone said “Pervert!!!!!”, everyone laught after that^^ It’s one of my favorite memories that I have.

    I really like hugging people, I did the free hugs a lot of time. I’m the most hugging people when I’m drunk ( but shhhh :P )

    I understand that you missed that^^

  15. Becca says:

    This post makes me want to do a Free hug Meetup in Philly. =) But yes, I definitely saw it. A good hug: a genuinely kind embrace and parting with a smile or even a giggle. I definitely get it. Sometimes people need a good hug, BUT I felt bad for the dude in Korea. He just wanted to give out some free hugs, looking a little like an unwanted puppy. =/. He made an attempt, but after reading your blog about the culture in Korea, I think it was a success he was able to encounter people willing to receive a hug from him voluntarily in the first place, even a woman! Perhaps it’ll take time to let the guard down, till then continue to share the knowledge, and break down a decent hug to the masses. Thanks for the giggles. >.<

  16. Rachel says:

    I’m an american and I also LOVE giving hugs!..What a bummer that Koreans don’t like throw their whole body into it! I’m so surprised because I have a good Korean friend and she’s always patting my back and holding arms with me and stuff and very “share-y”. When I go to Korea I’m gonna show them how!! (Unless you definitely advise against it because they might get offended…)

    Anyways, I had to comment to make you aware of THE BEST kind of hug that I learned from my amazing Uncle. Okay, this is how you do it:

    1- open your arms wide and both of you reach around for a hug.
    2- DON’T LET GO!
    3- okay, the fun part… both of you take a super looooong deep breath in together (almost like your souls are being entangled and you’re sharing all the happieness!) ~ and then take a super slow long breath out.
    4- okay, than u can let go and give cheek kisses and all that cutesy stuff or watever :-)

    That’s it! Best hugging power ever! Haha! Try it! Wonder if Eddie Kim likes hugs… lol! He showed me to Seoulistic. awesome blog and all dude! okay, lataz!

  17. Ronda says:

    I just moved to Korea from America and I miss good hugs oh so much!!! In America I was known for my awesome hugs and people would seek me out for a hug and would give me books or presents about hugs.
    Now I don’t even get a hug a day and my hugometer is super low on empty.
    I should definitely try a Free Hug sign where I work here and see what happens :) if security will let me….

  18. Fab says:

    Lol this made laugh.. I’m obsessed with Korean dramas but I’ve noticed they don’t hug a lot. So I had to if course google it. Lol. Thanks for this post ;-)

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