Every country has their old wives tales. I’m a gullible person, so it takes constant effort for me to distinguish between truth and fiction.
When a Korean told me that a cultural norm was for grandmothers to go into their pre-teen grandson’s bedrooms in the night and jack them off, I was stunned. In the year in a half I’ve been in Korea, there’s only one other foreigner I’ve meet who has heard of this. So it’s an easy rumor to write off as fake.
There are, of course, truths that seem like myths. For example, many Koreans believe in Fan Death. This means that if someone sleeps with a fan on in a room with closed doors and windows, they will die in the night.
I spoke to my most westernized Korean friend about Fan Death. “It’s a crazy superstition,” I said. “I’ve slept like that many nights and I’m still living.”
“Yeah, but you’re a foreigner. Koreans believe that this only happens to us.”
One day, my very serious Korean coworker told me about a Korean custom and I couldn’t figure out if it was true or not.
“When old women see a baby boy that they think is cute, they’ll go up to him, tap him on the penis and say, ‘gochu, mashita!’” She said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Gochu is a spicy pepper. And mashita means delicious. So it’s like saying ‘spicy pepper, delicious!’ but it just means that the boy is cute.”
My face showed my disgust as I pictured an old woman’s hands inching towards the crotch of a little boy’s pants. “They do this to their family?”
“They can. Or they can do it to any boy who they think is cute. It’s a compliment to the parents.”
“I would think that the parents would freak out if some old lady came along tapping their son’s penis.”
She laughed. “They only freak out in America,” she said. “Actually, there was news once about a Korean woman who did that to an American boy when she went to America, and the parents sued her.”
I laughed too. “Cultural differences at their finest.”
I’d wondered sometimes if this story was true or not, because it seemed quite unbelievable. About a year later I met a Korean man who had spent two years in America and wanted to continue practicing English and keep it fresh in his mind. We often spoke about the many differences between the USA and Korea.
“Is it true about ‘gochu mashita’?” I asked him one night.
He smiled. Where did you hear about that?”
“My old coworker told me. I found it very surprising and wondered if it was true.
“Yes,” he said laughing. “We also call it ‘gochu mochu!”
“That is one major cultural difference. We have nothing like that in America.”
“Thank you for that. I think many foreigners would see it as something crazy. But I’m glad you understand it as a cultural difference.”
Indeed. Spicy pepper rumor confirmed.