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Reference point: https://youtu.be/cAFzX16uGls?t=245

A bunch of North Koreans are sitting around a table with a male guest from Singapore, who is filming in first person.

One of the North Korean females (seemingly and probably some kind of government-appointed guest hostess) says that the ham is "Korean-style ham", made from only the head of the pig. She then goes on to make a joke (or is it not a joke?) about how there's "ear wax" from the pig on the plate, in reference to it being meat from the head.

While I find it both hilarious and charming, mostly due to the way it's said and who says it, I still find it rather unappealing to say something like that at the dinner table. But then again, I'm from the West and I've once been told by an Asian doctor in a rather rude manner that I had ear wax in my ear, so maybe Asians in general have a special relationship with ear wax and thus this joke might be much more "mild" to Asians compared to how it is perceived by myself?

On the other hand, the guy filming, who again is also an Asian, seems to also be confused/uncomfortable by the remark, so I don't know how to interpret the situation.

Frankly, already just the thought of eating ham made from a pig's head makes me feel quite bad in my stomach, with or without one bit of ear wax. I'm not at all convinced that this is really "Korean-style" ham; she might very well be joking about that whole part as well for all I know.

Can somebody please shed some light on this for me?

2

Welcome!

The food you are referring to seems to be 편육, which really is a ham made from pig's head. It is quite popular in South Korea, and from the video I presume that it also is in the North as well ;)

That being said, talking about ear wax at dinner table wouldn't be appropriate in Korea, just like any other western society. A Korean kid talking aloud about his/her ear wax at his dinner table would be mildly admonished by his/her parents.

Asians might be a bit more familiar to ear wax than westerners, though. It's kind of a 'culture' to pick it, whereas westerners don't really 'pick' them out. Another similar example would be body scrubbing in public bath(때밀이). Body scrubbing or ear picking is considered a service in Asia, just like massages. (Ear picking service has a bit of a sexual connotation in Korea, but that's another story.) But still, as I mentioned before, this doesn't make it okay to speak of such things in public. It's just that they hold a slightly different position compared to other unsanitary behaviors like nose picking.

To sum up, such food does exist and is actually quite popular in Korea. And although there are some subtle cultural differences, it was nonetheless inappropriate of her to talk about ear wax in front of dishes. These North Koreans were just being a bit naughty with this visitor.

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