+ A

Behind the mask

Aren't people covering the wrong part of their heads?
Jan 09,2003
The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Mr. Ornstein, who wrote to us from Osan:

Q. Mr. Ornstein:
I know that many Koreans wear surgical masks in the winter, believing this will stave off colds. But why on earth don't more Koreans wear hats? On very frigid days, most Koreans go hatless. Don't they know that most body heat loss occurs from the top of the head?

Koreans began wearing masks decades ago when the government and hospitals suggested the practice as a way to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, such as influenza. The practice has survived, and many people still strap on a mask at the first cough or sniffle of a cold.

As for hats, local health experts advise wearing them in the winter, but most Koreans are averse to them. If you wear a hat, people usually point out that you are either fashion-conscious or different -- depending on you and the hat.

Traditionally, men's hats denoted their social class. As Korea became modernized, hats became less popular.