Weird and Wonderful: Things to know before coming to Korea

I thought i’d write a few little tips on certain aspects of Korea that foreigners should be aware of, things that may seem perfectly normal or not normal in our home countries.

COUPLES… Korea is the MOST romantic country ever!! Couple outfits and couple jewellery is very popular and couple holidays are frequent!!! The way couples work is quite interesting, from what I have learnt girls can be very demanding on the boys, asking them to hold bags, dragging them round shops etc. Then the boys are known to break up with girls by just stopping talking to them and deleting them literally from their life which is something I cant quite understand. So, just be aware if you get into a relationship with a Korean, it might not be quite what your’e used to! (I am stereotyping here, this is just a generalisation from friend’s stories and experiences)

TOILET PAPER…. err there is none. Well only in some public venues especially in more local places or some public restrooms/toilets. So be sure to carry some Handy Andies around with you. Also in most bathrooms there will be a bin next to the the toilet – instead of flushing your loo roll, you are expected to put it in the bin. The Korean plumbing system isn’t very good apparently.

PREPARE TO SQUAT… yes they have those god awful holes in the ground here…Ladies, usually you will have an option to sit or squat… for you men – you have it easy!!

PERSONAL SPACE… again there isn’t very much especially on the subway or in public spaces. Many people are used to having  a certain amount of distance between them and those around them whereas here it’s not such a problem. So if you are quite protective of your personal space, don’t get agitated or upset if someone imposes it, it’s just not such a big thing here.

RIGHT OF WAY… repetitively… not so much of it here, for pedestrians anyway. Watch out at all times crossing roads, on the edge of roads and even on paths/sidewalks. Running red lights is a common occurrence here as is driving onto the pavement or scooters/motorbikes/small vehicles just wandering off onto the sidewalk.

SMALL TALK… sometimes Koreans try to ‘break the ice’  or get to know you better by asking personal questions such as “how old are you?” “are you married?” etc which you may not be used to being asked on a first meeting. They are not being rude, they are just interested and want to keep the conversation going.

TAKE AWAY AND RETURN.. When you order a take away, often you will be given proper crockery and cutlery which you then leave outside your home or accommodation to be picked  up later on.

SUGAR BREAD… bread here is almost always sweet, even the garlic bread. Sometimes from Paris Baguette (a bakery) you can get fresh bread which isn’t, but just be warned.

“WAITER…” … When ordering in a restaurant, most places will have a buzzer on the table, if you don’t press this the waiting staff are likely to ignore you until you do. If there isn’t a buzzer the Korean way of getting attention is to call “chogeyo” which is like saying “over here” I find this hard to get used to and don’t enjoy doing it very much as I think it seems rude, but I assure you it is completely normal here!

DRINKING: Drinking is a very large part of Korean socializing. If you are not used to drinking very much or do not drink at all, be warned about this. Although you will not be forced into drinking it is sometimes considered impolite to turn down a drink especially if you are drinking with associates or elders. For those of you who drink a little take one and then just watch your limits, and for those who don’t drink, simply explain your beliefs/traditions and accept a soft drink instead. And for those of you, like me, who love a drink enjoy yourselves but watch your limits, Koreans struggle with pacing themselves much more then others I think.

Drinking is commonly done with food here, where many people are used to eating with maybe a glass of wine then going onto drinking. Here, however you eat to accompany your drink and in many places ordering food is compulsory when ordering alcohol.

BLOWING your nose at the table… try to excuse yourself if you need to, or if unavoidable turn away from the table.

PDA (public displays of affection) I mean, a simple kiss or cuddle is fine, but openly going for it (unless your in a club) is a bit of a no-no.

TATTOOS… I have a butterfly on my foot which gets a few stares, I have been told my a Korean that some of the older generation associate tattoos with the mafia…. not so sure whether it is such a big deal now but if you do have tattoos just be open to a few stares.

BOOBS… well as a larger busted lady I have found it very difficult adjusting my wardrobe to suit. From what I gather, low cut tops are a bit controversial as many Korean girls don’t have so much going for them in that department and therefore you don’t see much cleavage. However you will notice that is it perfectly acceptable to wear shorts that I would barely class as underwear, this being because Korean girls are renowned for their great legs! I see it as westerners have great boobs and Koreans have great legs and therefore they show of what they have! Just be warned if you’re going out with your boobs out, be prepared for a lot of both wanted and probably unwanted attention.

SPITTING and couging up phegm… eww I know but its perfectly normal here! I don’t really know how to explain that one, but yeah just don’t be surprised.

SMOKING indoors.. Many restaurants will allow smoking although some might have smoking areas designated, but all clubs allow smoking, so if you are very asthmatic then just be careful if you go out clubbing, sometimes it gets unbearable.

MOTORBIKES… Firstly helmets are not such a big thing over here which is surprising. Secondly piling boxes, rolls of carpet, bags and people onto the back of a bike is very normal here, I wonder frequently how they don’t topple over.

STRAIGHT? Girls holding hands, it doesn’t mean that they are gay girls here are just more friendly. It’s only like being back in school holding your best friends hand. Even the men are a lot more touchy feely here with each other so if you are a man that can be particularly sensitive about that type of thing, don’t get offended it’s just the culture here. I happen to find it very refreshing :)

“EXCUSE ME…” Common courtesy in public… if you bump into someone in the street you might expect a “sorry” or “excuse me”, but you won’t get it here. This is one of the things I have found quite hard to get to grips with as in England people would be considered rude is such cases, but here its not such a big deal, neither is holding a door open once you’ve gone through it for the next person.  It’s quite funny really, when you do do it or even open the door open for someone to go through before you they seem very surprised and overly grateful.

NO TIP… great for us, tips wont be expected in restaurants and if you do expect a distressed waiter or waitress running after you with your change!

TWO HANDS.. try to accept drinks, money, anything really with both hands as it is considered polite.

POURING… pour drinks for other people but not yourself, if drinking with Koreans they will probably take care of pouring. It is considered to mean back luck in love for you and the person sat opposite you to pour your own drink.

SHOES OFF… you will be expected to take you shoes off in all homes and in some cafes and restaurants where there is floor seating.

WARNING: you will be stared at, wherever you go and it isn’t (always) rudeness, but curiosity. This can happen especially if you are tall, blonde, voluptuous… well basically if you are small dark and petite you should be okay, anything else and you might get a few stares. 

Sometimes there is a little prejudice against foreigners, unfortunately this is from previous experiences of foreigners and some Korean seem to group us all together with the drunken violent ones, the drug possessing ones and in many cases from the Army… I’m not going into detail on that one but some peoples attitudes towards army officers are not always positive. Anyway I consider that more of an incentive to show them that we are not all that bad, so if you do get a curious stare or unpleasant look, just smile and give a little bow of the head.

6 thoughts on “Weird and Wonderful: Things to know before coming to Korea

  1. yes, exactly. By the way, i found this place because i was looking for something about Allive Goshitel, which is where i’m am now. You lived here, didn’t you? I’d need to ask you a couple of things then.
    Thank you

  2. So glad you wrote this post. VERY helpful. I will be in Seoul for 6 months starting on June 22, 2012. I’m from the states, and I’m sure I will experience many of the same “surprises” as you have. Would love to email you for more tips if possible. I see you listed it above in the comments.

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