Fan Death

As I switched on my fan this evening when I got home (yes, I’ve started needing a fan… and it’s only April), I spotted something that reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write. It was this:

That’s the timer. The timer which is there by law, so that your fan doesn’t kill you. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: Fan Death.

This is one of the strangest things I have ever encountered. Koreans – and only Koreans – believe that you will die if you leave a fan on all night while you’re asleep.

The government takes Fan Death very seriously, and has issued warnings and run awareness campaigns on the subject. There are a number of reasons given to explain it, but if you asked a random sample group of people how exactly fans kill people, the most common response would be something like this: if you sleep in a room with all the doors and windows closed, the fan will suck out (or eat up) all the oxygen particles in the air. Because the room is sealed, you’ll then end up in a vacuum and suffocate. Yup.

The thing about it is, this is not some silly story that a predictable handful of nutjobs take seriously. I’ve done my research, and haven’t found anyone in my circle of Korean friends and acquaintances who doesn’t believe in Fan Death. As far as I can tell, Koreans of all ages, all levels of education, and all professions truly believe that if you sleep with an electric fan on in a room with closed doors and windows, you will die.

But how come you don’t suffocate when you’re awake in a room with a fan on? I asked a colleague, who had almost fainted when I casually mentioned needing to have a fan on all night when sleeping in hot climates. She urged me never to do such a foolish thing again, and impressed upon me the importance of either setting the timer or sleeping with the window wide open. But at my question, she looked perplexed. It was as if she hadn’t even considered it before – yet it’s the question pretty much every foreigner I know has asked when receiving their first Fan Death lecture. My colleague just looked confused, and then decided to ignore my question and give me further advice such as “don’t sleep with fan pointing at face as it will stop you breathing” [actual quote].

I dropped the topic of fans into conversations with several intelligent, respected friends, just to be sure. I honestly felt convinced that they would laugh and shake their heads and say with affectionate embarrassment, “ah, Fan Death… some people believe this, but obviously I do not!”. Instead, they became instantly serious and stern. It was as if they were saving me from myself – without their timely warning, I might well have naïvely slept with a fan on, and died of asphyxiation.

Even doctors believe in Fan Death, despite the fact that none of their counterparts throughout the rest of the world will back them up.

I know I’m not the only foreigner to have laughed as I was warned about Fan Death for the first time, assuming that the warner was joking. Others have told me they did the same. Ha ha ha! Fans that kill you unless you open the window, yes, very amusing! You just get used to laughing politely when someone’s making a joke that doesn’t really translate. Unfortunately, in this case, we all discovered immediately (from the offended look and the stern tone of voice) that this was no joke, and we had to turn our laughter into apologetic interest.

No one seems to know why fans specifically target Koreans in their murderous plots, but the media provide hard “evidence” by churning out story after story about the latest person to fall victim to Fan Death. It’s a deeply-entrenched cultural belief that no one questions. And you know, I really think that even if you could get an intelligent, rational Korean to admit that the arguments for Fan Death don’t hold up, they still wouldn’t dare sleep with a fan on and all the windows closed…

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6 thoughts on “Fan Death

  1. Crikey… fan-cy that! Just goes to show that there is definately ‘nowt so weird as folk’ and it certainly beats the old wives tale I was brought up with, of not sleeping with flowers and plants in your bedroom (and hospital wards) because they ‘use up all the oxygen at night!

  2. Gawd I should be dead 10 times over. All three of us have fans in our rooms, all night and every night in the summer …must be the open window that keeps us alive! Very funny ideas. I wonder what their take on ceiling fans would be?

  3. Geri – I find it incredible how firmly people will believe in something just because important people say it’s true. And scarily, I know that I’m one of those näive ones, because I’d believe in it just as readily if I wasn’t coming at it with prior knowledge that it isn’t true!
    Baino – I’ve often slept with a fan on and no open window, because when the air outside is hot and muggy I don’t want to let any of it in! I am thankful to have survived these experiences.

  4. Jen – no need to apologise, I like getting comments! But on this one, I must just point out that the blog you reference is called “Ask A Korean”. And while the article is very persuasive, and the blog is one I read often, I can only quote what I wrote in this post:

    “As far as I can tell, Koreans of all ages, all levels of education, and all professions truly believe that if you sleep with an electric fan on in a room with closed doors and windows, you will die.”

    ;)

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