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Throughout your time in Korea, you’ll obviously see things you wouldn’t see at home. Some are a little strange; others, really strange, and then some that are just confusing. We would like to share just a few of the many quirky habits and tendencies of Korean people and their culture. Our intention is not to spoil surprises for you. No doubt, one of the most fun aspects of visiting a new place is to identify differences for yourself. However, it always feels good to share your discoveries with other people, who can then acknowledge that they indeed exist, and that you’re not the only one who has noticed. Consider this an advance acknowledgement of some quirks that you’ll be sure to pick up on.
One item to keep your eyes open for is what we’ve termed “shoe abuse”. A significant number of people, young and old, treat their shoes and sneakers like sandals, and slip them on without pulling the back over the heel. Rather, they prefer to shuffle about, effectively crushing the back of the shoe. Shoehorns are available, but it seems that some just can’t be bothered to put their shoes on all the way.
You will find that toilet paper is used frequently in the place of napkins and paper towel in places like your school, in people’s homes, and even in some restaurants. There doesn’t seem to be a distinction between wiping your face among other areas.
As far as fashion is concerned, mobile phones, or “hand phones”, as they are commonly referred to as in Korea, are quite a status symbol. With that, accessories are pivotal. Men and women alike will have something dangling from the end of their phone that is often bigger than the phone itself. Cute and fuzzy is standard for many girls, and plastic accessories are popular too.
In addition to phones, some people find it fashionable to wear shirts flaunting something in English. What it says doesn’t seem to be important, however, as many shirts boast expressions that likely you or anyone you know has never uttered, and many are just incoherent. In any case, it is always fun to see someone proudly sporting a t-shirt with something like “Arcane Slip Singer Style” written across the front of it.
Another dominant theme in fashion is that of “couple” items. If you see man and woman holding hands, wearing matching, if not identical, outfits, they are not members of a particular club, or cheap viagra employees of the same company. More likely, they are a couple, and they’re not afraid to let anyone know it. Sometimes down to the sneakers or the bags they’re carrying, “couple” outfits and other items are sure to merit a double take from you. After witnessing this spectacle a few times, consider whether it would fly where you live or not, and whether you would do it for your significant other.
Random English has been mentioned just previously, but it isn’t limited to t-shirts. You will notice English mistakes all over the place, but it may shock you where you might find some. You may expect errors on a flyer, or perhaps within a small business or restaurant, but how about on an ATM, an advertisement for a substantial company, or even on a product that may have the same word printed correctly on another part of that same product? You would expect that international banks and companies could hire a native English speaker, even you, to do a once-over of an important document or ad before they went ahead and processed it, but nonetheless, you’ll be surprised to see mistakes all over that will make you shake your head in astonishment.
The Korean middle-aged woman, or a-ju-ma 아줌마 is easy to spot. Just look for a giant sun visor, and you’ll likely find a Korean woman between 35-50 years of age underneath. In addition, especially on a walk, she will be outfitted with white gloves, white surgical-style facemask, with her body covered from head to toe, no matter how hot the weather. To further help identify these women, know that trends catch on quickly in Korea, and it seems that walking backwards is the latest buzz as to what might be good for health nowadays.
Do you like techno? Well, get used to it of you don’t. It seems to be theme music to any event. At an amusement park, on the streets downtown, or even in the supermarket, techno music will accompany your activities. People would be confused to hear techno coming from the ceiling at home in a McDonald’s restaurant. And you’d have older people fleeing the grocery store in annoyance if such music was being played while they were shopping. In Korea, however, people of any age seem immune, and techno is used to get any sort of event rolling. See, or hear, for yourself.
One habit that you would generally not see at home happens to be a courtesy. On an subway or bus, for example, people who are sitting will frequently take and hold the bags of those who are standing, strangers or not. This scene might be a little uncomfortable for people at home, as people generally keep their belongings to themselves.
Do you enjoy getting popcorn or nachos at the movie theater? How about some dried squid? Yes, at the cinema or the ball game, dried squid, among other fishy snacks will keep the whole family satisfied. We’re pleased to tell you that popcorn and nachos are available at the movies, but it’s interesting to see some unusual items on sale right next to them.
It would seem that after all we’ve shared with you, we’re poking fun at Koreans. Indeed, we are having fun with it, but we’re simply pointing out differences, and these and other quirks are perfectly normal within their culture, but are strange from our perspective, only because of our own culture’s standards and norms. Of course, the things discussed in this section represent only a small fraction of the vast number of differences you’re bound to discover on your own. Have fun checking out people and places, and remember to never be bored!
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