Culture Shock in Korea: Why You Might Feel Uncomfortable!


Korean culture is dynamic, fun and interesting. But all cultures are different, and if you’re coming to Korea, there are some things that you might have to get used to. Here’s some culture shock in Korea that have made some uncomfortable! Be ready!

(Click images for sources)


Culture Shock in Korea via Public Bathrooms

Bathrooms are mine fields for encountering culture shock in Korea. Here’s a few things that might make you say “errr…….T.T”


Garbage Cans for Used Toilet Paper

Some older buildings can’t handle flushing toilet paper as it will clog the toilets. So sometimes there will be signs attached to bathroom walls asking you to throw away your used toilet paper in a garbage can. These cans are usually to the side of the toilet and are usually filled with everyone else’s used goods for the day. This Korean culture shock is yucky, but if you don’t follow the rules, you might be the jerk that clogged the toilet.

Tip: These older toilets can KINDA flush toilet paper, so you can take a chance. But it is extremely risky (and of course rude if you’re unlucky!).


Ajoomas in Mens Bathroom

Most public bathrooms in Korea have designated janitors. The reason this is a Korean culture shock for some men is when an ajooma (older woman) comes in with a mop in hand while you’re doing your business. And although you might be worried of having an ajooma check out your junk, don’t worry. They’re just there to pick junk up! (don’t worry ladies, men won’t be cleaning your bathrooms in Korea ;))



Instead of having a toilet seat to do your business, you might have to do your thang in a squatter toilet, or maybe more accurately described as a porcelain hole in the floor. Squatter toilets are leftovers from before Korea’s rapid modernization and are commonly found in less developed areas of Korea. But you will still find these gems even in modern cities like Seoul (usually in older buildings). If you’ve never used one of these, you will feel uncomfortable.


Soap on a Stick

A lot of people are used to having public bathroom soap come from a dispenser instead of bar soap. That way each serving of soap is for 1 person and 1 person only. No sharing of germs and other nasty stuff that might have been on your hands. But some public bathrooms in Korea have soap on a stick. And that’s used by everyone. It’s basically the same as using bar soap, but the fact that it’s on a stick comes as culture shock to some newcomers to Korea. But if you find one these, you should feel lucky. There are many cases where you won’t find any soap in public bathrooms in Korea. Soap on a stick it is! (See a pic here)


Culture Shock in Korea via Touching

Touching the Same Sex in Korea

If you come from a culture where touching among the same sex is not common, you might feel a bit of culture shock in Korea. Younger Korean women like to hold hands or at the least link arms with their bffs to show some affection. It’s even acceptable for Korean women that have met for the first time (and really hit it off) to at the least link arms. As for the males, it’s more common among older Korean men to hold hands with their homeboys. But even younger Korean men don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with putting an arm around a buddy’s shoulder. Sounds like childhood friends hanging out right? That’s what it’s basically about: showing affection like kids do. But you did the same when you were a kid didn’t you? If not, you might have to get used to it in Korea!

Watch our video below discussing touching the opposite sex in Korea. Also, your homie Keith has a post on Korean hugs vs American hugs on his personal blog. Make what you will of it. Touching might be a source of culture shock if you’re coming to Korea.


Culture Shock in Korea via Food

Double, Triple and Centuple Dipping

Korean food is inherently designed to be a communal activity. With the exception of individual rice bowls, Korean food is traditionally put out in the middle of the table for everyone to dig in at the same time. This goes for both banchan (side dishes) as well as main dishes. Most people don’t have any problems with banchan as chopsticks are great for picking up individual pieces of food. But where many people new to Korea feel a bit of culture shock is with the main dishes (mostly stews). Main dishes are traditionally ordered for the entire table. So the 4 other people you’re sharing your kimchijjigae with will stick their spoons in the same pot, take a sip, and dip again for another mouthful. To some, that will be culture shock in the form of spit swapping, but in Korea, it’s just a very normal way of eating. Although nowadays there are some people that are trying not to do this, there are still many Koreans that love to dip, dip and dip.

Tip: If you feel uncomfortable with this, ask for another dish to pour your own food into first. Find this tip, along with other useful tips for eating like a Korea local here.
Language tip: 앞접시 주세요 (apjeopsi juseyo) – please give me a (small) dish

Do you have your own Korean culture shock experiences that have made you feel uncomfortable? Share with us in the comments!


Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. Sumin says:

    I laughed hard at ‘Ajoomas in Mens Bathroom’ part! hahaha Those are great informations for visitor in Korea!

    Ah, As for ‘Touching the Same Sex in Korea’, I want to say our view about it has changed a lot. Korean people’s view of homosexuality is getting wilder as days go by, so now we tend to give some suspicious eyes to people who hold their hands, link their arms each other in public even if they are girls!

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