This is by no means the most comprehensive list , but it certainly one that can add a numbing effect to the many “WTF!?” moments that any newbie is going to encounter in their initial stages of life in South Korea. (Side note, please don’t be offended, this is advice based only on our experience.)
1. Watch out at intersections, even if it says walk…Cars always have the right of way. There may even be a scooter next to you flying down the sidewalk with a bulls eye on your back. Don’t let them win.
2. Don’t be offended at stares. If you are, you will have a meltdown and find yourself in the middle of an intersection with a 97 year old man begging for his life at your feet….not cool and really creepy. And let’s face it “small face”….your kinda a spectacle.
3. When people bump into you…it is the natural magnetic flow here. No need to say sorry, they don’t either. See it as a game….if you make it through an underground shopping mall without an ajuma’s face implanted into your left pit….you my friend are the victor!
4. To make good relations in your neighborhood…. Frequent the same mini marts, market stalls and local restaurants…always smile at the workers and say Annyonghaseyo… it goes along way and gives foreigners a good rep…even if you suck at it like Adam and its mostly incomprehensible mumbles, they love that you try.
Say hello to your building guard… he will love it! (they are not usually acknowledged and everyone likes to feel special)
5. Keep your shirt on at the baseball/soccer matches. I know it’s hot in the summer but seriously, tough it out Nancy. We may be foreigners and we do that in our country, but here…Koreans like their shirts on and we just look like the obnoxious do whatever we want foreigners. Believe me, there’s no Men’s Health scout checkin you out from the bleachers.
6. Shoulders, not a huge fan here in Korea (or tubetops..ladies) please always have a cardigan in your purse you can throw on in restaurants and on the subway and busses. (there is no such thing as too short skirts or shorts though…so embrace your legs). This does not go for dudes, I know they get away with some fashion police $hit on the guy side here, but keep the thighs for the bath house.
7. Volume…be quiet on trains. Don’t have loud conversations with friends or over the phone. Just because they don’t understand that you contracted crabs from a tree you swore was your girlfriend doesn’t mean that your not annoying the crud out of everyone around you.
8. Always pay handing over your money or check card, don’t just toss it on the counter. If you do, they will ninja star it back and slice of the tip of your ear. Well, no, but you should also attempt to hand money over with two hands if possible, its polite you crude animal.
9. Eat the Kimchi (you will learn to love it and the Koreans have such respect for you when you eat it!) Plus, its musical if you know what I mean 😉
10. Stop comparing your home country to Korea. It’s annoying…so just stop.
11. A wise coworker once told me, “Never ask a why question (if your boss is Korean), chances are you won’t get a direct answer or the same answer twice. Just go with the flow, it will save you a whole lot of frustration. Instead, just ask yourself, “why not?”
12. Try new foods.
- When you first get here you will flip over the inaccessibility to finding things that you are used to… (Depending where you live you may have access to more western things…and there is always Costco) Make a list of everything you wish you had… then hide it in your underwear drawer. After three months, you won’t even miss the stuff.
- If there is something you very much miss, you may be able to make it yourself. For example, peanut butter is expensive here.. not outrageous but enough since we go through a jar every week. So, we went to the market, picked up a huge bag of peanuts for $5 and made our own in a blender with some powdered sugar and oil.
13. Always shop for meat, veggies and fruit at the markets and stands…SO MUCH CHEAPER than Emart or Homeplus. Bring your portable shopping bags and huge smiles for the ajumas selling them. (you may even get an extra apple or two thrown in for free) Try to frequent the same vendors and be adventurous and try something new even if you don’t know what it is. Chances are it’s a helluva lot better for you than the tub of cookie dough you ate this morning.
14. NEVER ASK FOR SERVICE (Koreans tend to give you free things at the restaurants to try.. this is called service… sometimes it is a cider drink,sometimes it is a new kimchi to try or other times extra meat… but never ask for it. If you do, I will stab you in the eye with chopstick dipped in chili paste…maybe.
15. You will hear people slurping soup and hawking up spit… this is my number one most brain shattering peeve. It makes me cringe when I am in the elevator or cab or at a restaurant and I hear all of these noises…but it is a fact of life here. Feel free to do it yourself, I mean hell, its gross but when it Rome!
16. Always carry a small thing of toilet tissue in your purse; most public restrooms have rolls out by the entry door to the bathroom. Be sure to grab a good handful before going into the stall. Otherwise I think you may be setting yourself up for an interesting sequence of nasty events.
17. Ladies and Gents, I know that back home we are always comparing ourselves to others, thinking about our weight or height or hair color etc. Here in Korea, we are different than the natives. We will never look like them, be as skinny as them etc…so, embrace the fact that you are different! Feel good about it and all the while, appreciate the locals for who they are and what they think is cool. No matter how tight, or how many ass cheek holes his pants have.
18. Finally, remember that English is a whole lot more universal than Hangul. Therefore, even though you may not think so….pssst…they know when your are taking a verbal dump on their country more times than not. So, choose your words wisely and if you feel the need to vent…don’t do it in public.
But really, when push comes to shove… just smile…and then, smile again.
Do you have any additional advice for the newcomers? If so, please share…