10 Personality Traits about Koreans You Should Know! – Seoulistic

10 Personality Traits about Koreans You Should Know!

Korean Street Fashion Photography via lefas.co.kr

Although not everyone can fit so neatly into a list of personality traits, there are definitely some shared by most. Here’s a few we thought are pretty common in Korean people.

Nationalism at the 2002 World Cup

1. Nationalistic

The most Korean of athletes are always nationalistic. Whether it be olympians that dedicate their victories to their home country, or MMA fighters that dedicate their wins to the Independence Day of Korea (UFC Fight Night 37), nearly all Korean athletes are loyal to their country. Koreans are raised to put their country before themselves, and that leads to nationalistic activists that fight for Korea’s ownership of the Dokdo Islands (aka Liancourt Rocks), expansion of Korea’s airspace territory, or even Koreans abroad fighting for renaming of the Sea of Japan (contested as the East Sea). Koreans are bred to be nationalistic, mostly with the phrase: Daehanminguk manse (대한민국 만세)! Victory to Korea!

 

2. Green

South Korea is definitely on the forefront when it comes to the term “Save the Earth”! We always try to save on energy and recycling. The Korean government initiated a program throughout the country back in 2005 that tries to limit green house gases by conserving the energy costs of businesses through the Cool Biz program. Korea also takes its recycling programs serious! Bio-waste matter (left over food) is recycled through yellow plastic bags that are meant specifically for compost matter (which is rumored to be super eco-friendly and fed to pigs!). In addition, everything is separated by glass, plastic, cardboard and cans. And if you don’t believe us, watch your trash not get picked up!

 

3. Sleepless

Korea’s really a night owl’s paradise. After work, friends like to get together and have dinner with a few drinks. But going home right after that isn’t very Korean. Instead, there’s almost always a round 2 (2차 – i-cha) and sometimes rounds 3, 4 and 5, going on well past most people’s bedtimes. Good thing there are tons of businesses that stay open in the AM hours. From dinner, to drinks, to singing, to coffee and beyond, the ability to stay out late has become essential to making it here. But all that doesn’t mean Koreans get a free pass coming in late to work the next day. And that makes for a less romantic, Sleepless in Seattle Seoul.

See how crowded Hongdae gets late at night:

 

4. Emotional

Koreans are extremely emotional in all facets of life. It’s just another Korean personality trait. When a person dies in Korea, it’s not quiet; Koreans give new meaning to the word “cry.” But of course death is an emotional aspect for any culture. Just watch any show on Korean television, and you’ll see emotional underdog stories (as can be seen by this Superstar K video) and hear ultra sappy music, a part of any broadcasting company’s repertoire. Binge watch a Korean drama and you might have your fill of emotions for the week. And although life here isn’t like it is in the dramas, we can assure you that the emotions are definitely real!

 

5. Addicted to Smartphones

Korea is quite literally one of the most connected nations on earth. And that means connectivity everywhere: in the subways, on top of mountains and even in elevators. Just watch any scene in a Korean subway; people are paying more attention to their phones than the people around. It’s kind of a sad really, but Koreans just can’t seem to let their batteries die or leave their house without their phones (is it just us?). If you’re addicted to your smartphone, you’ll fit in just fine here in Korea 😉

6. Confused with Their Neighbors

Korea has a long history with its neighbors to its east and west, and not all of it is bad. If you go to Japan, you’ll see the largest Korean immigrant population in the world. Many 3rd and 4th generation Japanese Koreans (zainichi) stick stubbornly to their Korean roots, even if they can’t speak a lick of Korean. The whole Japanese colonization of Korea thing is a pretty bad memory too. But even with all this history, there are tons of domestic Koreans that study abroad in Japan. Also, Kpop drew a lot of influence from Jpop in its early days. And Japanese food is also mega popular. It’s a complicated love/hate issue that’s best left to Asian Studies professors.

Read our not-so-complicated post on Understanding Racism in Korea.

Korean street fashion via lefas.co.kr

Korean street fashion via lefas.co.kr

7. Obsessed with New York, Paris and London

Sex and the City is more than a few years past its prime. But with Sarah Jessica Parker and the gang came Korea’s obsession with trendy rooftop bars, swanky restaurants and brunch places for girl talk — all things Manhattan. Combine Korea’s New York obsession with romantic Parisian cafe culture and you got your own brand of Korean style coffee shops. London is glamorized for its fashion and regality (English accents anyone?). And it’s all fueled by romantic images of New York, Paris and London by the Korean media. Korea loves their cosmopolitan nature, and Seoul definitely strives to be just like them. It might take a few years, though ;). Go to Garosugil to see this obsession fueled inspiration in action.

8. Mixed Up with Technology

Apple has got its marketing down. And as one of the most capitalistic nations in the world, Korea’s got to get it’s Apple fix. They’re trendy and most importantly look cool! Go to any cafe and you’ll see brand new AirMacs and MacBooks galore. But take a look at their screens and you’ll see them all running Windows. Many Korean websites are designed specifically for Internet Explorer, and using a MacBook would simply limit online experience. Many shopping websites can’t function without installing those pesky Windows security .exe files. But MacBooks are still cool, and Korea’s all about the cool ;).

 

9. Pressured

There’s a lot of pressure to get ahead in all facets of life in Korea. Mothers with money will enroll their kids in English nurseries at close to $1000 USD a month so kids learn to speak without accents. Mothers with less money will send their kids to English academies (or Math, Science, History, etc.) to try to get a step ahead of everyone else. A large percentage of the population want envious jobs like lawyers, doctors or any position at Korea’s largest corporations (Samsung man!). Parents pressure their kids to get married by introducing potential spouses through really awkward match-making type blind dates (선). This all might seem pretty harsh, but many Koreans believe this mindset is a big part of how Korea dug itself out of 3rd world country status.

 

10. Impatient

Koreans have a ppalli-ppalli (빨리빨리) culture (meaning “hurry, hurry”) which focuses on getting things done as quick as possible. Under the direction of Park Chung-hee, Korea’s President in the 70’s, Korea began to cultivate a sense of urgency which lives on today. Drivers in Korea are often similar to your friend that accelerates and stops because he’s always in a rush. Packages that MUST be delivered asap can be sent by Quick Service (퀵서비스), which guarantees extremely fast delivery. It’s become part of the Korean DNA. And although impatience might seem like a negative personality trait of Koreans, it’s also what makes Korea so adaptable and responsive to the newest trends (i.e. technology, infrastructure, etc.).

Does your culture share any of these Korean personality traits? Write a comment and let us know!

Keith
Keith
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.

40 Comments

  1. Eric K says:

    Actually, the term “bhali bhali” originated from the Shila dynasty, and possible even further out. It became like this because Korea was constantly being invaded fron China, Mongolia, and Japan. Because Korea was always on the move (Packing their belongings and avoiding pillage and rape), blahi blahi goes futhure into the Korean roots because Koreans had to hurry up and pack and leave. Thus, that why Koreans are very impatient. FYI

    • guest says:

      actually it just comes from ‘빠르다’ bbaruda to literally mean ‘fast’.

    • Jun says:

      You are mistaken. Korea has not survived it’s turbulent history by hurrying to pack and leave. They hurried to the front lines to defend themselves. If you study Korean history, the people rose up to combat the invaders alongside their armies. Koreans are notorious in uniting as a force to be reckoned with. It took the Mongols 5 invasion attempts before succeeding on the sixth in order to subdue the people. Pillage and rape often was unavoidable, but this did not deter the Korean spirit. Early history shoes many invasions from China, the Mongols and Japanese to a lesser extent. However, the Yuan did not survive and Japan was greatly influenced on many levels by Korea.

  2. Marion says:

    I really liked your article, it is so true !
    Many of theses traits are part of my love for Korea and korean people. What’s strange is that I am completely the contrary of the korean culture (my south of France’s culture is so different !!), but when I am in Korea, I surprise myself becoming like one of them… I like it very much and it’s kindda frightening at the same time !

  3. kozaza says:

    It is great insights about Korean people. In general, we think Korea’s future is bright as a couple of consulting firms claims that Korea could be G2 by 2050.

    • LivinTheDream says:

      G2…as in the top 2 economies in the world? I find this highly unlikely. I study business and I have worked in Korea for many years, and I just don’t see this happening. They really need to do something about their reliance on a few companies to power an entire economy. Samsung alone is responsible for nearly 20% of the GDP. If anything happened to one of the big chaebols, this place could come down like a house of cards. With that said, I do see them staying in the G20. But they lack many variables that some of the larger countries, such as India, China, Brazil, USA, possess.

  4. Really enjoyed reading the 8th point – Mac with window operator. Guess IOS isn’t considered cool with Koreans. Hilarious 🙂
    Agree with all the points, specially how well the last point of Korean impatience is blended with their adaptability of technology and infrastructure

    • Dk says:

      iOS is…a phone OS… everyone must use iOS with their iPhones…
      I’m 3D designer with mac pro, I still have windows, cuz OSX doesnt run 3dmax. There are just some stuff apple can’t do. apple knows their limit, that why they came up with bootcamp, so users don’t have to go buy a third party software. Get you facts right…

  5. syakila says:

    lols..i’ve been there and yess all of those is sooo freaking true! before,when watching dramas or any videos i thought they’re not anything like that but after witnessing it, yes what i watch on tv is very close to their real lifestyle.nice write up btw ^_^

  6. Jo says:

    Way to stereotype the whole country. What a genius.

    • jqi says:

      i agree…there is only one that fits to my personality (iam a korean) and. ..:( i think this is mainly abt older generation ppl except for the technology part

  7. Hodor says:

    Always shades of grey with things like this. Two points about energy saving and doing things quickly, both related to efficiency.

    First, government is invested in saving energy but expect doors (even in low traffic areas) and windows to be left wide open for no reason while ac or heaters are at full blast. Then they are turned off when we are sweating or freezing, then we repeat the process, wasting impressive amounts of energy.

    Second, try driving, walking or using an escalator and you will find people stopped or moving slowly in all lanes, blocking people wanting to move faster.

    Efficiently inefficient.

  8. Kimberly James says:

    That’s ME! I AM HALF KOREAN. HALF AMERICAN BUT YOU ARE SOOO RIGHT WITH YOUR ARTICLE. THANKS ALOT

  9. kelli says:

    You forgot to mention incredibly shallow, vain and materialistic….not to mention racist and “othering” (meaning anyone who dares not to look exactly like everyone else or gasp..is chubby….gets stared at, pointed at, glares and rude comments made. Plastic surgery is practically the norm. It’s so sad.

  10. DK says:

    I agree with Kelli. Also, don’t forget overly dramatic and hold a grudge. . . .Ever heard of a Korean church that didn’t separate? Neither have I. . .. .We have to take the good with the bad. . . .

    Funny story. . .my friend’s dad still bristles when he sees Apollo Ono on a Subway commercial.

    DK

  11. Pauline Park says:

    I’m definitely ‘green’ (i.e., eco-friendly), I’m occasionally sleep-deprived, I’m definitely involved with technology, sometimes feeling pressured & sometimes impatient. I live in New York now & have lived in both Paris & London, though I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with any of them. But I’m most definitely confused with people from Korea’s neighbors — mistaken for Chinese or Japanese all the time~!

  12. Aram says:

    There’s a lotta truth to this article and quite a bit of stereotyping…
    But most of the article on seoulistic is right on the nose and you need to have a little humor and allowance for sarcasm to just enjoy the articles and possibly read them as they were intended to be read. ^ ^

    Smartphone addiction is one I agree with the most. Koreans everywhere are bumping into other people or running into red lights because they are too busy looking down on their phones. I know some countries have started to outlaw texting/using your phone while walking… we might need it here in Korea..

  13. Gabrielle says:

    No.5 so true. I probably the only young adult on Seoul subway who didnot have my smartphone on my hand.
    Yea, because it’s 10.1″ note, too much if i have to put it on my hand LoL

    I do have my other Korean Anycall smartphone but really too lazy to be busy with it while on subway, as I will be to nervous on not missing my next stop.

    I really amazed how those Koreans really get used to enter the subway door, and still looking at their smartphone without worry to drop it at all.

    Sometimes I did a little peak on what young people next to me doing with their smartphones. the guy usually playing games and the girls check out latest branded shoes or bags, some did chat, of course in hangeul character which i can’t read (no sinner here)

    The only time the young Korean did not have their smartphones in hands, is when they are with their friends chatting along the subway ride. Once, they got separated, the one left behind instantly getting out his smartphone :)) that’s just how they live. Interesting isn’t it.

  14. Michael says:

    Great post, but I absolutely don’t agree with #2 “Green”. Energy waste is horrible in Korea. People don’t turn off lights when they leave the office, aircon is turned on to the max 24/7 (and not turned off when leaving the office), shops have open doors while having the aircon running. Energy shortages happen due to the total lack of energy-saving mentality among common people.

    Also the isolation of Korean houses is horrible. Cold is getting in easily and in summer apartments heat up quickly. Thus, you always need to heat or use the aircon. Crazy waste of energy.

    People throw garbage on the streets and poor people are collecting and seperating it anyway. In crowded areas there are millions of flyers on the streets for promotion, which is an insane waste of paper. Young people throw their stuff automatically on the street because of a lack of public thrash cans and someone will pick it up anyway.

    Here in Austria or Germany every household (!!) has their own seperate thrash cans for paper, plastic, metal, green glass, white glass, food and general garbage.
    Houses have good isolation so that once you heat up your apartment it stays warm. No need for permanent heating or cooling, even if its -15C or +36C.
    My hometown generates 70% of their energy through renewable energy (water, bio waste, solar energy).

    The Korean government tries to force the green though onto the general Korena public, but they are far away from bein called “green” in international comparision, sadly.

  15. Katie says:

    I’m addicted to my phone!

  16. Sabrina says:

    I have read lots and lots of articles about Korean culture, and this was one of the most wonderfully written and very interesting and of course hilarious article I have ever read.Korea is one of the most interesting countries in the world.The most weird fact about them is that when you are born in Korea, you are considered a year old.

  17. Jjokbari says:

    As a friendly neighbor, we have been waiting for our loving Korean people grow out into real world leader, leaving the self-pitying past behind. It’s sad to see some people are adamant trying to put up Comfort Women Memorial everywhere as it reminds me of 척화비 and its consequence after all.

  18. Clarke says:

    In the Philippines, it’s just the opposite! People like it more to take things slowly. That’s why most (but not all) people do not care much for time. Although Americans influenced us to use our time wisely it appears many people didn’t took it at heart.For example, something is scheduled for 9 am but actually starts at 10 am onwards! Ask a Filipino about Pinoy Time:) Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we don’t progress that much although its a little different now.

  19. eliza says:

    some of them are soo like me. i want to be born in korea!! LOL

  20. Grace says:

    I have only a little bit of Korean blood, but I can certainly relate to some of them, like being addicted to smartphones, being emotional, and especially being impatient. Sometimes, I can’t even stand to wait 2 seconds!

  21. Fatemeh says:

    I think the traits you mentioned are the same all over the world. Young people are crazy with their modern gadgets and everyone is stressed over their jobs and their bills and as the west has glorified itself using Hollywood, all those who get to know about it through cinema is obsessed with it. English people still hate the French and the French hate the English and as much as I have experienced Koreans are nationalistic but they don’t disrespect those they don’t know by calling them names like the westerners.

    • Sophieschoice says:

      My sentiments exactly! We are more alike than different. Show me a kid or an adults in this country that doesn’t have a cell in their hands. Kids with gadgets at dinner tables if they even eat together. Look at all the shootings n road rage bc of their impatience. As long as ur part of the human race, all these traits exist in all of us.

  22. Jen says:

    I love Korea.. I started to love it because of k-dramas. I just founded some their traits because of watching and I do really love them.. I’m Filipino by the way.. Thanks for this article .

    • Maryanne says:

      I agree with you, if it was up to me South Korea would be invited to join the rest of the Commonweath countries as our brothers and sisters.
      Let’s be honest we all have different likes and dislikes and opinions on most things, but at the end of the day whatever our colour or creed we are all one of the human race good health and peace to you all ??

  23. Goodness says:

    “The whole Japanese colonization of Korea thing is a pretty bad memory too.”
    Have you read any accounts of Japanese colonization? Would you call the Holocaust, colonization of Africa or the Amerindian genocide is a “bad memory”? Your belittling of 50 years of genocide, enslavement and exploitation is at best ignorant, and at worst damned neo-Nazi.
    “Many 3rd and 4th generation Japanese Koreans (zainichi) stick stubbornly to their Korean roots, even if they can’t speak a lick of Korean.” Well, what would you do if there are still banners readings “No dogs or Koreans” on sports stadiums? Declare yourself a dog? Mind you, some nice Japanese families consider marrying a Korea quite on the same level as marrying a homosexual.

  24. peter says:

    The reason korean dramas are so emotion filled, is because koreans themselves are emotionally straight-jacketed. The patriarchal and hierarchical nature of day-to-day life apply so much pressure to, especially, young koreans that they bottle-up their emotions and there is no outlet for them to let off steam, except for when they are drinking, often to extreme. Hence, Korea has the highest or second highest rate of suicide in the world.

    • Sophieschoice says:

      I would like to think of them as passionate people. Passion takes emotion. I would rather be around people that are passionate than people with no emotions.

  25. dwwasd says:

    Korean are stupid

  26. Victor says:

    Good article, but as a full Korean I want to invite the writer and other readers to get to know Korea a little bit more intimately.

    I can’t say that I agree with most of the items on this list. It seems like the superficial initial observation made by a korean-american tourist. (no offence intended)

    Koreans, like all members of other cultures around the world, have individual biases. If you take one person’s word or behavior as fact you don’t get the full picture.

  27. Shinghanway says:

    Greedy, selfish, cold, untrustworthy…

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