A couple years ago, some friends and I were sitting around, drinking mediocre beer at some hof in Jeju when the subject of fan death came up. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Fan death?”
Friend: “Yeah, Koreans won’t sleep with the fan on because they think it will kill them.”
Me: “No way. You’re kidding.”
Friend: “Nope. Ask anyone. They really think they’ll die.”
Me: “But how? That doesn’t make any sense. How would it kill them?
I imagined rogue fan blades flying through quiet bedrooms, severing heads and limbs.
Friend: “They think it steals their oxygen.”
The topic came up countless more times during my two years in Korea. Each time, I couldn’t believe an entire population could believe such ridiculousness.
My favorites were the tales of heated arguments between American guys and their Korean girlfriends. The boyfriend, who wanted to use the fan on hot summer nights, would explain the scientific impossibility of death by oxygen-stealing fan. The girlfriend, fearing for her boyfriend’s life, would frantically insist that the fan could — and would — kill him in his sleep.
Well, I hate to break it to you Korea, but for the past four months, I’ve been sleeping with not one, but two fans, spinning at full force each and every night — and I’m still alive! In fact, I’m pretty sure that, if it weren’t for those fans, I would have overheated to death. (Yes, I know that’s not a thing.) So really, in my book, fans are life savers, not takers.
From Wikipedia: “Fan death is a widely held belief in South Korea that an electric fan left running overnight in a closed room can cause the death of those sleeping inside. All fans sold in South Korea come with an automatic timer that turns the fan off after a certain number of minutes. In general, scientific consensus holds that fan death is a myth.”
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that an entire technologically advanced country could hold on to such an absurd belief. But then, I guess it’s really no different than religion. I mean, some of those stories are truly preposterous … but we believe them anyway.
What crazy cultural beliefs have you discovered in your travels?