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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Big ‘O’ and the Power of Persuasion over Korean Men

By: Brittany S
For those of you who don’t know, the big ‘O’(TBO) has A LOT of influence over Korean men.  That’s right, I said it.  TBO is your friend.  It can get you any and everything you want from a man.  If you want a free meal, concert ticket, ride, outfit, etc, TBO is the way to get it. There’s much satisfaction to be had.  He loves hearing his name.  Say it loud, say it proud!  It just sweetens the deal.
This "Big O" is awesome and in Korea, but I'm not quite sure if it has any power over Korean men.                                       (As Seen in "Odd Stuff Magazine" via Google Images)

Ok, let me quit playing with y’all before you lose focus of what this blog is all about haha. TBO does have some REALLY strong persuasion over Korean men; it even works on men you don’t know.  But TBO that I am referring to is NOT the one you may have initially thought.  I am talking about the word 오빠 (“Oppa”—means older brother).  Within the Korean language, there are several levels of familiarity.  When a woman becomes close with a man who is (slightly) older than her, it is common practice that she will address this man as오빠.  By her acknowledging him as such, she is saying she expects him to look out for her in the way that an older brother would (mostly).  He will buy her food, take her places, offer her words of wisdom, etc.  In turn, she will be appreciative and will do him favors like store runs, etc.  Even though it sounds more like she just takes and he gives, he is truly happy to be able to be her 오빠.  It makes him feel like (for a lack of a better way to say it,) “the man.”  I have an오빠.

Remember earlier I wrote about what I did on Children’s Day?  Well, I spent that day with my 오빠.  He made sure I was included in his family’s festivities, picked me up, fed me, and made sure I had a good time.  All he wanted in return was to see that I was happy.  He is such a sweet man and our relationship really is no more than an older brother/little sister relationship.  He says I’m his first foreign little sister. :-)  He and his wife invite me over occasionally just to make sure that I have a good home-cooked meal in my system from time to time.  They always make sure to throw in a meat since they know I like meat so much (Koreans mostly eat veggies).  They told me to call them (even though they don’t speak English very well) if I ever need anything.  Once, my 오빠 decided to drive out of town just to take me to TGI Fridays so I could have “American fooduh” and “steakuh.”  I never really ate much at Friday’s when I lived in America, but how awesome is that to have someone surprise you with a trip out of town just to get a taste of home?

The cool man in the shades is my 오빠. :-)

Another time, after he treated me to brunch at a local restaurant, he asked me if I wanted to take a drive.  Because of the broken English, I initially thought he was asking me if I wanted to go driving.  I panicked—I’m terrified of driving in Korea.  I eventually understood and agreed.  Again he drove me out of town, this time to a beautiful lake with swan paddle boats, live music, and ice cream sundaes.  What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  After these few experiences, I have decided that wherever he decides to take me is ok by me.  I am moving to another city soon for a new job and without hesitation, my 오빠 told me he will help me move.  He will take a personal day off from work so he can make the trip.  I love that man!  All of this because I called him오빠 one day.  (If you are wondering what the favors are that I do for him it’s simple; I speak English.  I help him and his son to practice English as well as enlighten him a bit on Western culture.)

Now, MY 오빠 relationship is strictly platonic.  HOWEVER, this is the SAME word that a girl will call a guy she is dating.  In this case, the word takes on a bit more of a manipulative power.  It pretty much puts the woman in control of the relationship.  Like any power, it can be used for good or evil.  Take a look at this:

These girls posted this in jest, but there is a whole lotta truth to what they said (note: they also said there is a certain WAY you have to say it.  They are dead on with that one, definitely).  Neither they nor I am advocating that you trick a Korean man (or any man for that matter) into being with you; being yourself is most important.  But if you find yourself in an area that draws a younger Korean crowd, you are definitely going to see or hear some version of this at some point.  Now whether these girls are being sincere or scheming is to be determined, but either way, TBO is the way to go.  I have even seen girls walk up to people on the street and ask them for something and just watched the guy melt as the girl walked away.

I tried to think of an equivalent to this word in American culture but I couldn’t really do it justice.  I know some women say “Daddy,” but that one usually leans more on the sexual side and wouldn’t explain how this word works for platonic relationships.  Other words like “baby” or “honey” still lean on the relationship side.  I think this word is unmatched.  It’s AWESOME!

Today’s lesson was brought to you by the letter ‘O’.  Thanks for tuning in!


  1. I love 오빠 as a word...but I get so many mixed signals about it! I think it depends on the guy. We used to manipulate your old co-teacher with it, and I had a boo in Gunsan who wanted me to call him 오빠 ... but then when I dated a Korean he didn't want me to call him 오빠! He said it sounded like something prostitutes say to get what they want lmbo. However now my coworker bff wants me to call him 오빠 ... mixed signals indeed... but I do love to play around with it.