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In South Korea, Valentine's Day is all about the men

By Frances Cha, CNN
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 1451 GMT (2251 HKT)
Seoul women line up to buy chocolates for men for Valentine's Day.
Seoul women line up to buy chocolates for men for Valentine's Day.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Women give men chocolates for Valentine's Day in Korea
  • Valentine's Day is just one of many romantic Korean holidays. Next up: White Day
  • Valentine's Day has evolved to incorporate more than just romantic interests

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Unlike most harried men in many other countries around this time each year, Korean men don't have to worry about shopping for jewelry or flowers or writing nice cards to give to their significant other on February 14.

Instead, for South Koreans Valentine's Day is when women shower men with chocolates.

It's also just one romantic day in a whole series of calendar-dictated romantic days.

Next up is March 14. Known as White Day, on this occasion men gift women with candy. Fact: Chupa Chups is the most sold candy.

Next is Black Day on April 14, when downbeat singles who didn't receive any goodies head to local Chinese restaurants to commiserate over their loneliness while eating jjajyangmyeon, or "black noodles."

Surprisingly, one of the most popular gift-giving days of the year is November 11, or Pepero Day, so named in honor of a favorite Korean stick-shaped snack. (Link in Korean only)

Catering to women

Buying handmade chocolate at Jubilee Chocolatier in Seoul.
Buying handmade chocolate at Jubilee Chocolatier in Seoul.

Throughout the country, stores selling confectionery prepare for months leading up to February for one of their best-selling days of the year. As February 14 nears, visitors to the country will notice lines and lines of women at such stores. Naturally, retailers need to cater to the female shopper's eye.

"Valentine's Day is one of our top five days of the year," Chul-hyun Yoo, the public relations representative for CU convenience stores, told CNN. With 7,900 stores throughout the country, CU is the number one convenience store chain in South Korea, recording almost ₩3 trillion (US$2.8 billion) in total sales last year.

"You can tell what concerns women and men is different by comparing the sales of Valentine's Day and White Day," said Yoo. "Women tend to go for value for money, while men buy big, flashy baskets."

One translation: women are comparatively stingy, while men like to show off. Some of the best-selling items on Valentine's Day are the Ferrero Rocher chocolates sold in packets of three or five. Fellas, don't eat all at once.

Becoming unhealthy?

At the more upscale Jubilee Chocolatier dessert cafe in Seoul, women line up on the days up to Valentine's Day to buy handmade chocolates that can be customized with their loved one's initials.

"Our Valentine's Day sales make up 20 percent of our entire sales," said Gae-ra Lee, public relations representative for the cafe.

Although the series of romantic days used to cater more towards couples, or those wanting to confess their secret loves using a romantic day as an excuse, in recent years, goodie-gifting on Valentine's Day and White Day has expanded to include family, co-workers and pretty much anyone you come into contact with on those days.

"I'm buying chocolates for my father. I feel like Valentine's Day should about confessing romantic love," said Jin-hee Oh, 28, an office worker shopping at Lotte Department store.

"Nowadays, you don't give chocolates on Valentine's Day because you really like that person," said Chun Kyung-woo, a culture reporter for a local newspaper.

"The custom has evolved so that now you have to give small crappy candy that no one actually wants to all your friends and everyone at the office down to your security guard as a show of goodwill," said Chun. "It's unhealthy."

So what did I do? Along with the other female members of the Seoul office, we each gave the Turner Korea boss some chocolate. Not that he needs it.

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