"우리" (uri) means "we". Koreans often say 우리 남편 (our husband), 우리 마누라 (our wife). But if you translate 우리 (uri) literally into our or us, it means you don't really understand one important part of the Korean culture - the 우리 uri culture. In fact, the Korean language also has singular pronouns equivalent to "my", for example, 내 엄마 (my mother). However, the use of these singular pronouns in Korean daily life is considered unnatural compared to the uri expression. To understand and explain this, we cannot explain in terms of grammar, language but we must look into the cultural origin. Uri is a word with a long history in Korean culture.
According to linguists, uri derived from the world ul-tha-ri (울타리) which means a fence or hedge. In the past, Koreans built fences and hedges to make the cattle pens or plant vines around the house and demarcate the house's boundaries. This image represents solidarity, attachment, and endurance in the struggle and survival history of Korean people.
Koreans often use the word "uri" to refer to something that is shared by a group of people or even the whole community, or it's something that all the team members have. This comes from Korea's highly communal culture.
Community values in Korea are closely related to a small population, mainly comprising of an indigenous population with deeply rooted nationalism. Korean people think that using the word "uri" to introduce one’s nation or family members will make the listener not feel separated from "his" or "my" and create a friendly atmosphere. Uri will "accept" all listeners in a conversation, make them a member of the same group, and double their strength in solidarity. Therefore, this meaningful word is gradually used by Koreans as a natural expression while communicating in their daily activities.
Because of this culture, saying "my" is regarded as a manifestation of conceits. Koreans always use 우리 나라 - uri nara (our country) to refer to their country, instead of using 내 나라 - nae nara (my country). That said, it was like he claimed to be the only one who owned the entire nation.
내 아내 - nae anae (my wife) is also a somewhat unnatural expression to Korean because not only you have a wife.
In fact, in the Korean language, there is no noticeable difference between "my" (내, 제) and "our" (우리) because these two words are interchangeable in many cases. Gradually, these two general and specific concepts also merged into one. This is not only shown in writing but also in Korean people's way of thinking.
In contrast to the presumptuous case above, in everyday life, Koreans also use "uri" (우리) as a way to express love. For example, a wife can say to her husband: "우리 남편 오늘 설거지까지 다 했네!" (Today "our husband" even washed the dishes for me!). This is the way Korean people talk affectionately to their lovers and spouses. Or, seniors can use "uri" to encourage juniors: "우리 광수 오늘 수고 많았네!" ( Our Kwang Soo worked so hard today!).
Uri in this case is a very warm and cute expression.
In the current era of globalization, the uri culture is the strength of Korea, the community culture helps Korea to grow steadily and become stronger. As an expat, understanding this culture will help you to learn the Korean language the right way and how to communicate with Korean people without making behavioral mistakes.