As North Koreans prepare for end-of-year festivities, the influence of South Korea’s cultural wave, known as “Hallyu,” has led to one particularly striking linguistic change. During gatherings of family and friends, North Koreans can now commonly be heard saying “geonbae!” – the South Korean version of “cheers” used to toast each other’s health.
“It’s now common to hear groups of North Koreans across the country loudly exclaiming ‘geonbae!’ during gatherings, apparently due to the influence of South Korean media. The previous ‘cheers’ expression was ‘chukbae,’ although this has been steadily disappearing since the 2000s. ‘Geonbae’ is considered to be trendier among younger people and students now,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on December 4.
“There are many private and business-related end-of-year gatherings at the end of the year, and it’s common to open the celebrations by toasting ‘geonbae!’, raising and clinking their glasses to the successes of the year and for a hopeful new year. Toasts used to revolve around party loyalty and the like, but now they toast to money and health instead.”
After the famine of the 1990s, North Korean women took over the role of family breadwinners through their work in the markets. It became common for women to hold drinking parties at the end of the year, but this also became a source of conflict.
“As the breadwinners of their families, women [had the means to] hold these parties, involving drinking, clinking glasses, and toasting to things mostly related to the success of their business,” the source added.
The idea of women drinking alcohol and holding parties, however, is still frowned upon by a considerable portion of the population, as patriarchal culture remains strong in the country. She explained that for many of the older generation who spent most of their lives under the all-encompassing socialist system, these new cultural changes are very strange and can lead to conflict in some families.
“The younger generation is quickly becoming accustomed to things like dancing and females drinking alcohol, while the older generation is becoming ever more critical of the changes,” she said.”But I have heard many people say, ‘Times are changing and you have to keep up with the times, or you’ll be left out.'”
Households where the husband’s parents are living with a younger married couple are hotspots for these types of conflicts, added the source, who related a recent story where “a woman came home quite late after a night out drinking, and many in the neighborhood heard the loud fight that ensued.”
A source in South Pyongan Province told told Daily NK that “‘geonbae culture’ has become the subject of recurring arguments between adults, but young people have embraced it, toasting ‘geonbae’ even when drinking non-alcoholic drinks. Such a thing would have been unthinkable years ago, but this is another way that South Korean dramas have influenced the culture of young North Koreans.”
“People used to toast to the ‘Great scientists and the People’s Army,’ but now they toast to ‘wealth’ and becoming ‘successful businesspeople,'” he added. “It’s now the era of personal self-reliance, so naturally conversations revolve around making a living.”