Living in Korea will change who you are. Many of the daily habits you pick up are because of that fact. And that means the longer you stay, the more you’ll change. See our list right here:
UPDATED April 10, 2014
Korea is a very night-centric place, and hanging out into the AM hours even on a weeknight is very common. Go to any major Seoul hot spot and you’ll see 24 hour cafes, BBQ restaurants open till late and convenience stores on every block that never close. Heck, even shopping at Dongdaemun Market starts around 7PM and goes until 7AM. If you’re an early bird, the only things to do in Seoul during the morning hours is go to work or visit tourist attractions. Everything else (eating, playing and hanging out) all really start after the sun goes down.
When you’re in Korea, taking pictures is a part of daily life. Most of the time it is the usual culprits of food porn pics as well as top quality Korean style selfies. Of course not everyone is so picture crazed, but if you find yourself around Korea’s young smartphone wielding female demographic, you’ll end up throwing up automatic V-signs and smiles more often than you’ve ever thought you would. It’s part of the great big feeding frenzy that goes on in our Facecbook and Kakaotalk apps. For most Korean women, taking as many pictures as it takes to get the perfect shot is a part of everyday life.
Coffee is a part of morning routines for many people around the world. For most, coffee is their preferred beverage for its quick caffeine jolt. The sleepiest of us can’t go without a few cups throughout the day. And while Koreans intake coffee as liquid defibrillators, too, most Koreans go to coffee shops because it’s now a part of the culture. During lunch hours, coffee shops will have office workers looking for a place to relax before heading back in. Couples who have no where else to go will grab their favorite espresso-based drink and stay chatting well past what’s considered loitering in other parts of the world. And of course, they’re the number one place for girl talk. Coffee shops are everywhere in Korea, and they have become such a part of the culture that you’ll find it impossible to escape.
Want more than coffee? Here’s 15 Unique and Interesting Theme Cafes in Seoul!
Kimchi is literally everywhere in Korea because it’s a part of every meal. Even many non-Korean restaurants will also have secret stashes.Part-time workers at a Gangnam Burger King will bring a stash of their own kimchi to chow down on Whoppers with a side of the good stuff. If your stomach gives you a scary sound every time you eat kimchi, you might be in trouble. We suggest getting used to eating kimchi; it’s something that would make living in Korea much easier. Plus it’s healthy, delicious and free with most meals
Tons of people throughout the world have Mr. Miyagi level chopstick skills. But that’s usually with well-gripping wooden chopsticks. In Korea, metal chopsticks are more common, making japchae glass noodles extra slippery. These metal ones are harder to grip as they’re usually quite narrow as well. Bottom line is, the metal ones are generally tougher to use than wooden chopsticks. So, if your chopstick skills aren’t so great, get used to eating food off the table (5 second rule!).
Soju is liquid gold to some and liquid kryptonite to others. And no matter which side you stand on, soju is something you’ll have to get used to in Korea. It’s cheap, strong alcohol that’s sold everywhere. So even if you don’t drink it, you can’t escape it in Korea. It’s mixed in with beers (ssomaek), in cocktail format (cocktail soju), and oozing from the pores of drunk businessmen on crowded subway trains. Wherever you go, whoever you’re with, whatever you do, soju will be with you. Like batman.
If you want more than just soju, here’s an Introductory Guide to Korea’s Most Popular Alcohols.
Ondol, the Korean floor heating system, is one of the reasons even many modern Korean families still choose to sleep or sit on their floors. For some people, it’s more comfortable than sitting on a couch. Sitting on the floor is still a big part of modern day Korean culture. You’ll be sitting on the floor if you go to Korean restaurants or jjimjilbang, or even if you’re invited to someone’s home to watch some TV. So if your legs fall asleep easily when sitting on the floor, you might want to get used to it.
Fruit prices in Korea is one of the biggest complaints of foreigners in Korea (mostly of the North American variety). Of course fruit can be bought for cheap from the back of trucks or from local grocers. But if you’re shopping at large super markets or department stores, you’ll see that they have their own section for expensive fruit baskets. These gift baskets are filled with hand-picked “luxury” fruits that are guaranteed to be super delicious. But it comes at ridiculous prices that can go well beyond 100,000 won. But even at non-luxury prices, larger fruits like pears can go for 5,000 for a single one, and even 25,000 won a large watermelon. Either way, you’ll have to get used to fruit prices.
If you’re a heavy napkin user at the dinner table, you might find living in Korea a bit of a pain in the butt. Many places throughout Korea give one single napkin for meals. It’s not a lot, so you have to make efficient use of each clean surface area of the napkin. You can always ask for more napkins, of course, but even still, you might find the thinness of the napkins found in many restaurants in many Korea to be too thin for your liking. That means no hard nose blowing and no wiping of wet tables.
Korea’s trouble with agressive drivers is always blamed on Korea’s ppallippalli (do things quickly) culture. It might be accurate because the drivers always drive a bit reckless like they’re always in a rush. But even if you’re not going to be driving on the mean streets of Seoul, if you’re going to live in Korea, you should get used to watching your back for cars. Many streets are small, and many drivers think their cars are smaller than they actually are. Oh yea, and be careful when taking taxis. Some people might get a free real-life demonstration of the arcade game Crazy Taxi.
For some reason, Koreans have a fondness for corn kernels as well as mayonnaise. Sometimes they seem inescapable. You’ll find these two items in salads, pizzas, hamburgers, Korean food and even just by themselves as banchan (side dishes) or dip. So if you dislike either of these two foods, you might find yourself picking at a lot of food just to not eat them. We suggest you getting used to eating corn or potato on your pizza, and maybe some mayonnaise on top.
Another common complaint of foreigners (as well as many Koreans) is the pushy ajummas and ajeoshis. Instead of “excuse mes” many older Korean men and women opt for forearms and palms to lower backs to push someone out of their way. More often than a gentle and endearing nudge, it’s more commonly a forceful and assertive shove. Either way it’s annoying. And since you would be a super jerk foreigner if you yelled at older people (big no no in Korea), you’re going to just have to get used to it.
Captain Obvious says if you’re going to say hi to Korean people, you should do it the Korean way. Most of the time, if it’s a casual hi — like at the convenience store or your building security guard — you’ll say annyeonghasaeyo with a short quick head nod. These short nods should be a part of every greeting and parting you take part in. If it’s an important occassion, you’ll need a suit and/or hanbok. And you’ll also need a super hardcore knee bow. Bowing is part of everyday life in Korea. Get used to it.
Don’t know how to bow? See our video here:
Keith Kim is a Korean-American living in Seoul, Korea. He likes espresso shots, photography art and he loves his Playstation 3. He started seoulistic.com as a hobby site, and is now in the process of turning it into a full-time business. Wish him luck! Check out his blog for an uncensored view on entrepreneurship, dating and life in Korea. Personal Blog: gyopokeith.com Facebook: facebook.com/gyopokeithkim Twitter: @gyopokeith Youtube: "Gyopokeith e-mail me anytime at: gyopokeith [at] gmail.com