25 Surprising Things I Didn’t Know Until I Got To Korea

I scoured blogs, watched k-dramas, and listened to an unhealthy amount of k-pop before moving to South Korea in an effort to prepare myself for all the cultural changes I was bound to experience. Although that research wasn’t wasted, there are certain things I wouldn’t have ever learned had I not moved across the globe to call the land of morning calm home for a year. Below is a list of 25 things I found to be true during my time in Korea. I hope you enjoy this fun list, traveler!

Korean Girl
1. No one will bless you when you sneeze no matter how hard your sneeze attack is.

2. There is no word for “you’re welcome” in South Korea. Often while I’m speaking to a Korean in English and say “thank you”, they’ll simply nod their head. At first I thought I was just being annoying by saying “thank you” too often, but then a friend explained this little nugget of truth to me.

3. Rice is eaten at every single meal. Never ask your students what they ate expecting variety because you’ll always get the same answer. “What did you have for breakfast?” “Rice”, “How was lunch?” “The rice was good.”

4. “Have you eaten yet?” is a common greeting in Korea. Much like in America when we mindlessly ask “How are you?” The answer isn’t really expected to be sincere. Just something light and positive. When Koreans ask me if I’ve eaten, I smile and nod…even if my tummy is rumbling.

5. “Mixed coffee” in Korea is mostly sugary creamer in a plastic tube. If you’re a serious coffee drinker, stay away because it’s pretty much a pound of dry creamer and a few sprinkles of “coffee.”

6. Public smoking is still legal in some places. This one is hard to get used to since most restaurants and bars in America have made smoking in public areas illegal.

7. No one follows leash laws, and puppies roam free next to their owners in public.

8. Slurping noodles is the proper way to eat a bowl of ramen. I still haven’t mastered this way of eating yet, though. Whenever I try to slurp noodles I just splash broth on to everyone. Once I smacked my own nose with a particularly long and unruly noodle. Awkward.

9. Smacking your lips while you eat is a sign that something is delicious. When eating dry morsels like breads or cakes, Koreans tend to smack their mouths. To be honest, I found it annoying at first because I’d hear my mom’s words ringing through my head every time. “Don’t eat with your mouth open. Do you want to catch a fly?” After some time, it’s grown on me as rather adorable. Sometimes when I’m alone I’ll try it quietly.

10. Korean children are allowed to run amuck. From the moment Korean children are old enough to go to school, they are bombarded with hours and hours of studying, classes, and tests. Grade school is really a hard and tiresome time for Koreans. Knowing what’s to come, Korean parents often let their little toddlers get away with anything. Temper tantrums in stores, parks, and even the street are pretty common.

11. Objects are given with two hands to show respect.

12. Koreans call selfies “selcas” Selfie+camera = selca

13. Princess style hand mirrors are hugely popular in Korea. If you’re teaching middle and high school, you’ll eventually hate the sight of these cute mirrors. Girls and boys will constantly be perfecting their hair, make up and clothes during lectures.

14. Fried chicken is AMAZING in Korea. Ask any expat and they’ll back me up on this. I don’t know why or how Korea got so amazing at frying chicken, and I don’t really care. All I know is I want fried chicken constantly in Korea.

15. Showing even a bit of cleavage is considered scandalous. Keep your blouses buttoned high, ladies. If you happen to be a little bustier than some, make sure you bring plenty of good bras and conservative tops from home.

16. Dresses, shorts, and skirts can be microscopic short and no one bats an eye. I’ve even seen some girls in Korea rock long shirts as if they’re dresses. I’m not really complaining on this one. I love to wear short skirts in Korea. I’m going to be sad when I have to add inches to my dresses when I go back to America.

17. Squatters are still very present in Korean bathrooms. Most places have both types of toilets, but if there are only squatters around, go ahead and muster up your courage to use it. Just remember to make double sure that you don’t miss and accidentally pee on your clothes. I’ve seen a few drunk girls come out of the stalls with damp looking jeans.

18. You can’t flush toilet paper. The pipes are old and narrow, so paper shouldn’t be flushed. Trust me, the last thing you’ll want to have to do is tell your land lord that you broke his sewage pipes.

19. Tampons are ridiculously expensive in Korea. If you use tampons, you have three options in Korea: switch to sanitary pads, order boxes online for a cheaper price, or suck it up and pay the extra amount in Korea.

20. Drinking in public is legal. Do I really have to explain this one?

21. Traditional blind dates are still popular among young Koreans.

22. Korea drinks more liquor than any other country, and it’s all because of cheap, gets-the-job-done soju.

23. It is socially acceptable to get blind drunk with your boss and co-workers. In fact, some bosses purposely try to get their employees drunk because they feel that’s when they can easily see their true character.

24. Koreans don’t chase liquor with beer or juice. They chase it with meat! After taking a shot of soju, Koreans will pop a hot piece of BBQ meat into their mouth to soften the blow of the liquor.

25. Soju is easy to drink and impossible to survive. I’ve never had a hang over that was more severe in my life than a soju hang over. You’ve been warned.

If you’ve ever lived in South Korea, what surprising things did you discover while living here? Share them with us in a comment below! 

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