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. Many places throughout Korea give a single napkin for each customer. 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. Rather 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. There are also the rare, extra formal occasions where you’ll need a suit and/or hanbok, and an accompanying bow down to the knees. Of course, there are varying degrees of bows between these two extremes as well. Bowing is part of everyday life in Korea. Better get used to it.
Don’t know how to bow? See our video here: