As part of my Korean language course at our local community college, our instructor is teaching us about different aspects of the Korean culture. She has graciously given me permission to share this information on my blog. Many thanks to Mrs. Lee!
* Culture of affection
There are some words which are so central, yet unique to the ways of thinking of a particular society or culture that they are very hard to translate. In the United States, for instance, history has endowed words such as “liberty” and “equality” with special meaning and importance.
In Korean, perhaps an even more important and difficult word to understand for the foreigner is the word 정[jeong](affection, warmth, feeling, sentiment, love).
The concept of 정[jeong] is an essential part of how Koreans view and express their relationships. Tenderhearted, affectionate people are valued as having a lot of 정. Country people, who will often offer a complete stranger a meal and a place to sleep, have a lot of 정[jeong].
Certain gestures indicate 정. When serving rice, for instance, a Korean will always serve at lest two scoops of rice per bowl; any less and one is lacking in 정. This gesture of giving and of indulgence emphasizes generosity and feeling over the logic of calculating how much someone might really eat.
As always, the best way to get to understand how Koreans think is to interact with them and get to know some of them. You will probably hear them talk a lot about 정. And hopefully, they’ll say you have a lot of it.