Question: What home appliance do South Koreans worry will kill them in their sleep?
Answer: The electric fan.
Buy an electric fan at a hardware store in South Korea and it will come with an extra feature an American might not recognize: a timer that will turn it off after a set number of minutes—so the buyer can literally rest easy. That’s because South Koreans grow up hearing that leaving an electric fan running overnight in a closed room might kill them. That is not the paranoia of a few; it is so widely believed that there is even a term for it: Fan Death.
The first stores to carry electric fans in the 1920s labeled the fans with warnings about asphyxiation and other potential but unproven illnesses from overexposure. By the mid-century, it was accepted wisdom that Fan Death was real, and the government exploited the belief during the 1970s to help cut down on electricity consumption.
While newspapers still occasionally attribute an unexplained demise to Fan Death, the youngest South Koreans are also the population least likely to believe it is real. Experts attribute this change to the internet, which allows kids to discover that “Fan Death” is a phenomenon only in their country. But it may still be a few decades before most Koreans think of a fan on a hot night as a blessing, not a curse.
Only in South Korea: 8 Fun Facts
- Because the Korean word for death sounds exactly like the word for four, they skip the number four whenever possible in writing and speaking. In elevators, the fourth floor button is likely to be blank or marked “F”, and a restaurant would not serve a meal with four items on the plate.
- In the same vein (so to speak), Koreans won’t use red ink because it symbolizes blood and, in turn, death. If you see a name written in red, the subject has died—or is expected to.
- A popular New Year’s Eve tradition is for Koreans to hide their shoes, so that evil spirits won’t fill them and then follow the wearer around, bringing bad luck for a year.
- A Korean will be a year older at home than he or she is when visiting the rest of the world. That’s because Koreans count gestation as the first “year,” so a baby is considered a one-year-old at birth. When they grow up, they may identify themselves, for instance, as 22 in Korea and 21 wherever else they are.
- Koreans love “poop.” It is replicated in cookie shapes, charms, dozens of emojis, the world’s first poop museum, and even entire theme park dedicated to celebrating toilets.
- 20% of the male population in Korea wears makeup daily, together spending over US$900 million a year. Despite being home to less than 1% of the world’s men, the nation consumes a quarter of all men’s cosmetics.
- Blood types are announced at birth and widely shared as information. Because each type is considered a personality marker, Koreans grow up knowing how people will view them for having A, B, AB, or O blood. For instance, type O men are seen as heroic, but type B men are considered cads, and thus not safe to wed.
- When Koreans take a photo, they say “kimchi” instead of cheese, but for exactly the same reason: saying “chi” is easy to do while holding a wide smile with open lips. Try it in your next travel photo!
Immerse yourself in the colorful cultures of South Korea & Japan: Temples, Shrines & Seaside Treasures with O.A.T.