Holding back the years: why everyone in South Korea could soon be getting younger

In the Asian country, there are three different ways of calculating your age – one of which means a newborn baby can be two years old. Now the president-elect is pushing for change

Name: The Korean Age.

Age: Korean.

Real age: This is going to get really confusing, isn’t it?

It certainly seems that way. I promise it’s simpler than it looks. Let me ask you a question. How old were you when you were born?

That’s easy. I was zero years old. That’s great! Unless, of course, you were born in South Korea.

Why? Because then you would be one year old.

No, I wouldn’t. Yes you would, because in South Korea babies are one year old when they’re born.

So are pregnancies longer there, then, or …? No, it’s just how they count it. Second question: at what point do you become another year older?

Oh, I know this one: it’s on my birthday. No. It’s on 1 January. Everyone in the entire country gets one year older at exactly the same time, on 1 January.

I’m lost. Then I had better not tell you about the other way of calculating age in South Korea, where babies are born at the age of zero and get one year older on 1 January.

What? Why? Because it’s tradition, that’s why. As the BBC has reported, this inconsistency means that Kim Tae-hyung – AKA V of pop group BTS fame – is simultaneously 26, 27 and 28 years old, as he was born on 30 December 1995.

This sounds like an almighty headache. It is. South Korea is the only country in the world where a newborn baby can be two years old. And that’s why the country’s president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, has proposed a modernisation.

Thank heavens for that. Just don’t expect it to be implemented at all. A similar modernisation policy was proposed in 2019, and again last year, but both attempts failed to get written into law.

But why? I know, right? Imagine living in a country that deliberately chooses to ignore basic global logic in order to appease some spurious, misty-eyed, false memory of tradition and sovereignty.

Well, quite. Anyway, it seems to me like South Korea needs to get a handle on this. I agree completely. What the country needs now is for a real grownup to step in and take charge of the situation. And, you know what? I nominate myself.

Why? Are you a grownup? I most certainly am. I’m … hang on, let me try to figure this out … I was born in … and I get a year older every January … OK, I’m either six months old or 153.

Do say: “South Korea has some really unconventional customs.”

Don’t say: “Says someone who lives in a country that has an official swan census.”

The GuardianTramp

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