We often see adjummas (housekeepers) working in the homes of the rich in Korean dramas. No well-to-do family would be without an adjumma. But they are always in the background; nameless characters in aprons. I believe it’s actually pretty common for wealthy people to have adjummas working for them in Korean society too – not just drama. And some families may have more than one – perhaps one to cook and one to clean. Adjummas can work full time in the same home or part time a couple of days a week in different homes. I started to think more about the role and status of adjummas when I was watching the ‘baby on the door step’ story line in New Tales of Gisaeng, (SBS)
Ra Ra’s dad and grandparents discuss how to find the adjumma, New Tales of Gisaeng SBS
So in the story, Doctor Geum and and his parents have discovered that he is the biological father of a baby left on their doorstep back in 1987. They are mortified because at the time they didn’t realize the baby was his and so gave the baby to their childless adjumma who said she would take care of her – they gave the baby away! Just like that! It’s interesting the casual way that the the baby was handed over. (yes, I know this is only a drama…but) OK, they didn’t have any bond with the baby but they certainly didn’t know anything about the adjumma they gave the baby to, either. And we know this because now, they are desperate to find the adjumma, but can’t even remember her name. All they know about her is that she worked for them and that she couldn’t have children and so was willing to bring the baby up.
Dr. Geum and Ms. Han want to find their daughter, New Tales of Gisaeng SBS
An added problem is that adjummas are always just called ‘adjumma’. Real names aren’t used. I think that actual names are rarely used in Korean society. It’s always oppa, onni, hyeong, nuna, adjumma, adjoshi, etc etc. Ra Ra’s grandparents surreptitiously see if Ra Ra’s mum (who doesn’t know that the baby was her husband’s baby) can remember the adjumma’s name. But although she remembers the lady, she says she didn’t even know the adjumma’s name in the first place so it would be impossible for her to remember it. (Wow. I think I would find it odd to have someone working for me in my own home, and not know that person’s name.)
Grandma rummages through her stuff to try to find any paperwork with information about that particular adjumma – but there is nothing. Grandma says that she paid her in cash. And over the years they have had so many adjummas working for them that she simply can’t remember anything about her!
Da Mo’s wealthy parents have an adjumma too (in the background)
I think this is an interesting point about people (women) employed to work in the home. The adjumma is paid in cash and has no benefits such as a pension or job security. She works alone and although she cooks for the family every day she is not considered part of the family at all. She must be a solitary soul! Even the people she works for don’t know her name – even in a company, employees know each other’s names! Don’t they? And company employees often bond together by going out and socializing. Perhaps in some cases if an adjumma works for a family for a long time then she may be on friendly terms. But certainly this family seems to have no relationship with their adjummas – and they have had a high turnover of them too. Are they not interested in who is cooking for them and spending time in their home? It’s like the adjumma is invisible and has a low status even though cooking is such an important part of family life.