Korea has a very distinct culture and does many things that are very different from the Western lifestyle. In fact, some might even say odd. However, in a short time you will find yourself adjusting to the culture and doing some things that you would never think of doing at home-and even enjoying.
1. Have Get Togethers at Convenient Stores
If you want to meet up with a friend in Korea, instead of going to your local neighbourhood pub – you meet at convenience stores. Convenience stores are literally on every street corner in Korea and are great for buying cheap alcohol. The best part is that they have tables and chairs for you to sit at to enjoy your drink. I know it sounds weird – it’s one of those things you have to be there to understand.
2. Say Goodbye to Personal Space
I ‘m from Canada – the largest country on earth yet with very few people. South Korea was an adjustment for me – there are people everywhere. It’s not so much the amount of people that bothers me though, it is their lack of their personal bubble. Koreans have no problem shoving you out of the way or coughing in your face. It is not always negative though. Kids love to give hugs and adults hold your hand or put a hand on your shoulder while they talk to you.
3. Do the Peace Sign in Every Picture
It only took me a week to suddenly start using the peace sign in every picture I was in. it’s like Koreans subliminally forced me to do it. I don’t know why but now a picture just feels so naked without it!
4. Sing in Public…Every Weekend
Even if Karaoke was your worst nightmare at home I promise you that you will love it here. In Korea they call it nora-bong and you rent a room with your friends- so no singing in front of strangers. You can order beer and soju to your room and essentially have one big party with your friends. It is very carefree and after a few drinks everyone is up and singing to each song- so you are very rarely ever singing alone.
5. Use Chopsticks for Everything
I had no idea how versatile chopsticks were until I moved to Korea. Seriously, I have seen them used to cut beef, stir coffee and as vegetable skewers. Also- people here eat everything with chopsticks-even things that you didn’t think were possible! My personal favourite is eating cake with chopsticks.
6. Sleep on the Floor
If you ever book at a traditional Korean guest house or pension often you will walk into your room and notice that something is missing. Beds. If you are luck they will have mats for you to sleep on- otherwise it’s just you and the floor. As someone who hates a hard bed – I was surprised by how well I actually managed to sleep.
7. Wear a Surgical Mask
I could never understand why Asians walked around with surgical masks on. Were they really that paranoid? I thought people were being ridiculous…until I moved to Korea. Literally the weather app on my phone tells me the weather for the day, the precipitation and the air quality. Yes the air is that bad from yellow dust blowing in from China that my phone needs to warn me about it. It wasn’t long until a surgical mask became a normal item that I carried in my purse.
8. Eat Kimchi With Every Meal
Before I came to Korea I tried Kimchi to see if I liked spicy, fermented cabbage. I hated it. I remember thinking to myself, “I hope they don’t eat that a lot in Korea.” When I got to Korea I was in for a big surprise- they eat kimchi with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Kimchi is unavoidable and there are over 100 different types of the pickled cabbage. Over time I found myself warming up to kimchi and even enjoying it. I even caught myself adding it to my shopping cart one day.
(Read here for must-try foods in South Korea)
9. Get Naked with Strangers
When I first heard about Korean jjimjilbangs (bath houses) I was not keen on the idea.You know that bad dream you have of being in front of a crowd naked…well that’s exactly what this is. A jjimjilbang is a bathhouse that to enter you have to strip naked. Yep, you will be completely naked in front of a bunch of strangers.
I heard it is a MUST in Korea so I faced my fears and gave it a try.
I loved it! Jjimjilbangs are an amazingly relaxing experience. There was even something about walking around naked that felt free and empowering.
Don’t worry – the naked section is separated between men and women.
10. Do Weird Facials
Okay so I know that this one isn’t that weird…but actually it is. In South Korea they are all about the moisturizing face masks and they come in some pretty funky designs- like tigers and pandas. As well, they have some pretty weird types like snail, tomato, placenta, and donkey milk. You can’t make this stuff up.
11. Share EVERYTHING
Koreans are all about sharing. No one eats a bag of chips to themselves or brings out a snack without offering it around to others first. This sense of community spreads to eating out too. At a restaurant Koreans have an array of different dishes for everyone to share- it certainly prevents food envy.
At first this may come across as cute…until everyone is eating out of the same soup bowl. Oh, and don’t be surprised if they give you a glass that someone else already drank out of. You would think a country that wears surgical masks when they are sick would be more concerned about the spreading of germs.
12. Keep your Toiletries at Work
This was hard for me to get used to- and still is. South Koreans always have toilet paper handy because they use it like we use napkins. You will sit down for coffee and snacks and then they will place down a roll of toilet paper in the middle of the toilet…I mean table. I know it’s probably clean but I can’t help but cringe imagining that roll having been sitting in a dirty bathroom stall.
They also are really good about brushing their teeth every day after lunch. This is great hygiene, except for all of the toothbrushes lying around.
13. Wear Indoor Shoes
I know that a lot of Asian countries appreciate people to take off their shoes before entering a building but in South Korea it’s different. You only have to take off your shoes when you enter a hotel, restaurant, or work.
I was a teacher in South Korea and when I arrived at work I was expected to take off my cute shoes – that matched my outfit – and replace them with sandals in the summer and slippers in the winter.
To make matters worse you aren’t allowed bare feet so you had to wear sandals with socks! Even after a year I still thought that the whole slipper thing was ridiculous. My principal would be walking around in a nice suite accessorized with socks and sandals. No one can make that look good.