Why You Might Look Really Cheap in Korea – Seoulistic

Why You Might Look Really Cheap in Korea

We went over the really Korean way of paying for stuff (taking turns). But you can’t be doing that for parties of 10 every time. That’s just crazy. Instead, split the bill and just pay for what you eat. Makes total sense. But if you’re going to do that, here’s a tip: don’t be so exact!

Example: Myunghee owes Taemin 1,500 won for when they split the bill at lunch because she didn’t have change. When they head back to the office, Myunghee heads to her desk and gives him 2,000 won. Taemin goes back to his desk to get a 500 won coin to make sure everyone’s even, fair and happy.

Depending on where you’re from, this might seem like a very common occurrence. But in Korea, many people don’t pay attention to such exact details. It’s probably part of that really complicated concept of Jeong, but if you’re keeping track of every little amount of money and making sure everything is exact and perfect, you might seem to lack “jeong.” Here are some suggested solutions for the example above:

  • Forget the 1,500 won altogether. Just be cool, yo. 😉
  • Buy the other person some coffee or candy because you owe them.
  • Instead of exact change (1,500 won), be generous and round down or up: only take 1,000 won or give 2,000 won.

This will definitely stop people from talking about how cheap you are behind your back. But more importantly, you’ll fit in better in Korea. And don’t worry about the change. The universe will get you back some day friend. #zen 🙂

Koreans businesses aren’t always so “exact” either, and they may give you free stuff (called service). Find out:
How to Get Free Stuff in Korea (Service)

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. Kiko says:

    ( sorry I meant to comment on this post not the other )

    I live in the States with american roommates . I love them but this is something that appears to me as stingy. (ie buying groceries and errands for them…you get paid back only the exact amount on the receipt [$52.38]) . I grew up rounding things up when paying back money and giving a little more when someone really went out of their way. I’m not complaining or saying that this is bad… I just really prefer the rounds instead of keeping track and splitting of every cent <– gets annoying.

  2. Madur says:

    difference is that in korea, there are no jews.

  3. nay says:

    ugh, I must have been a Korean in my past life. lol

    I’m an American and I hate when people do what Kiko complained about below me. I usually just round. I’m so horrible, in fact sometimes I hate paying in change at the grocery simply because I find it kind of annoying (especially using Pennies!).

  4. En says:

    I am not Jew or greedy.. I just prefer everything be fair and right. You will never know others’ expectations are – so better pay without alterations. Rounds are not for me.

  5. Amir says:

    En, It’s not so nice of you to write “I’m not Jew”! There are people that can be offended if they will here you talking like that !!

  6. En says:

    It was in reply to Madur. No offence.

  7. Dani says:

    Excuse me, Madur, but I’m not only a jew but also Israeli, and I’ve actually never been doing that sort of thing, the opposite, even on bigger amounts of money I’d say “just leave it be, if you really feel bad about it just buy me a drink next time” and if I do that I’d say “let me buy you a drink one day”. Just because Jews’ stereotype is to be greedy or picky with money, doesn’t mean it’s actually like that…

    Although it’s a common thing in Russia to be accurate at how much each of us pay, and it’s been like that with my friends from America too, I’ve always just let it go! hehe

  8. Marina says:

    I’m from Serbia, but living in Germany. Serbians usually are like Koreans in this way… but oftentimes the German and French ppl I know are very exact, like even to 1 cent. But of course not every German person I know ^^

  9. Joel Owens says:

    I love this part of the culture! Just practice kindness and keep the ball rolling by sharing things. I sure wish more of the culture where I live thought this way.

    Thanks for the great article, Mr. Keith!

    joel from texas

  10. Laurenne says:

    I’m a french teen, and i agree with marina, In France it works like that, every pennies count. But actually, i have two roommates, and we don’t really count. I think, it’s more like a social code, if you doesn’t care the amount, it means that you’re closed.
    (except when you’re on at a Café/Restaurant, you need to leave tips, and more often peoples just leave the change).

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