5 Pet Peeves Every Expat In Korea Has

5 Pet Peeves Every Expat In Korea Has


If there is anything more true about traveling abroad, it’s that you get to know yourself much better than before you left home. Of course, the whole getting to know yourself part isn’t always going to be about hooking up with sexy Italians and eating gelato á la “Eat, Pray, Love” and other wanderlust filled books. Sometimes the things you find about yourself abroad are terrible, and sometimes they’re just boring – like the pet peeves you’ll find abroad.
Finding that you share the same pet peeves with other expats isn’t exactly the most exciting thing your time abroad will reveal, but it sure is fun to revel in the fact that there are some things about living in Korea that you’ll always share with others, even if it’s annoyances.

1. “Is it too spicy?”

Let’s just get this straight. Korea thinks all foreigners have the most boring and bland palates. I can’t tell you how many times I’d have to demand a certain dish or food from a refusing Korean who was worried I’d burn my tongue off with the Korean spices. Half the time I’d point to a dish, put my most serious face on, and refuse to take no for an answer. “I’m Mexican. Trust me. Your food isn’t too spicy for my Latin taste buds!”

Obviously not all expats are as masochistic as myself when it comes to food, but if you do happen to abuse your tongue with spices and peppers as much as I do, get ready to be annoyed at how often you’ll hear the question: Is it too spicy?

See also  5 Things Korea Does Differently

Adventurous with your food? Check out the Reach To Teach Asia food challenge to see just how adventurous you really are.

2. Real Job

Oftentimes, well meaning friends and family who don’t understand the allure of traveling will naively make comments in passing that don’t sit too well with expats.

“When are you coming back to the real world?”

“Don’t you want to come back and get married soon?”

“Aren’t you worried you’re just floating around Asia without a real purpose?”

My absolute least favorite question has to be: Are you scared you won’t be able to find a “real job” when you get back? Oh, hearing that question really makes my blood boil. However, arguing is a waste of time.

I usually just grind my teeth, smile politely, and laugh. While they think I’m laughing along with them, I’m really laughing at the fact that I get to travel the world for my “fake job.” while they sit at a desk for 8 hours a day surfing the internet. Keep your real jobs, I’ll be in Korea eating kimchi and experiencing a new culture. Is that a spiteful thing to say? Maybe, or maybe I’m just too fiery after eating all this spicy Korean food.

3. Koreans Are Impressed At Everything We Do

The first time my Korean co-teacher marveled at my chopstick skills, I was flattered. The 150th time a Korean commented on my “very, very good” chopstick skills, I was highly annoyed. I’m not sure why, but Koreans are continuously astounded at anything a foreigner does that isn’t “foreigner-like.”

Things that you’ll get applauded for in Korea by natives include: eating Korean food well, knowing how to say “hello” or “thank you” in Korean, knowing the proper table manners, and knowing the chopstick trick to opening saran wrapped bowls and plates for take-out.

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4. Friends Back Home Don’t Understand Our New Obsessions

Skyping friends back home becomes a bit of a problem when expats try to talk about life casually as if we weren’t living in a completely foreign culture. I want to be able to gush about K-dramas, how much I hate soju, and how crazy the Korean office environment is without having to stop every 2 seconds to explain the definitions of K-dramas, soju, and work diligence.

I found that the easiest way to explain these was to make my friends watch my favorite K-drama and mail them soju. It makes for super fun Skype calls!

Curious about work life in Korea? Check out my article Surviving The Korean Office: The Top 5 Don’ts.

5. “World Famous”

This one is probably the most confusing (and admittedly annoying) aspect of Korean culture. Korea loves Korea. Not so much in the amusing way that ‘Murica makes fun of their proud nationalism, but in a very serious way. Sometimes when having a conversation with a student or teacher, a Korean food or monument would be brought up. When I’d confess that I’d never heard of said food or monument, I’d be met with a look of utter surprise and shock. “But this is a world famous (insert random Korean object)! How have you never heard of it?!”

It was so odd to me that a student who has never left Korea would tell me that Korean oranges are world famous. Isn’t that for the rest of the world to decide? At first, I kept this little pet peeve to myself, but one night after a few beers with fellow expats someone let the topic slip and we all broke into laughter. “I thought I was the only one who gets annoyed by that!” We all giggled. It was fun to bond over something so trivial yet amusing.

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Despite these tiny 5 annoyances, I loved my time in Korea and actually look back on these pet peeves as memories with fondness. It was such a wonderful and unique experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Have you ever lived in Korea? What pet peeves did you have as a Korean expat? Tell us in a comment below! We’d love to hear!


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