Ah South Korea, the land of Ks – Koreans, kimchi, Kpop, Kdrama, and KFC (that’s Korean fried chicken). Let’s forget about those and talk about the things that you won’t expect coming at you if you’re traveling to South Korea for the first time. Before you hunt for food and your favorite Korean celebrities, here are the 10 things that you should know about South Korea:
1. Apparel Sizes
South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, is a great destination for shopping. If you like fashionable dresses or shirts worn by your favorite Korean idols, Seoul won’t fail you. The clothing sizes however, can make you a bit frustrated.
There are different sizes in Korea for clothes, shoes, pants and underwear. If your bust size is in A, it could be B in South Korea. If your shirt size is medium, prepare to go XL. Also, if you’re going to look for bigger-than-large sizes, you will have a hard time shopping. Don’t get shocked too if you see “free size” clothing which means that one size fits all.
Soju is South Korea’s favorite alcoholic beverage. Statistically, a typical South Korean adult drinks more than three times as much booze as his American counterpart with 9.6 liters of liquor a year. It’s not that they have too many holidays to celebrate with booze in a year. They just really love it.
Drinking soju isn’t just an open-bottle-and-drink task. If you’re in South Korea, you’ll notice that one person in a group will be pouring drinks using both hands. This act is a sign of respect. Moreover, a junior needs to turn and cover his mouth when taking a shot in front of his older or higher-ranking colleagues. If it’s your turn, don’t event think about refusing a shot for it can be offensive to Koreans.
3. Looks are Important
You’ll see women in any age publicly looking at their faces on their compact mirrors while putting on makeup. Makeup stores are everywhere. Cosmetic surgery clinics are everywhere. Everything that you need to enhance your physical features are already available and that’s pretty normal for South Koreans. Getting all made up and dressed up is an everyday thing in South Korea and now that cosmetic surgery is common, surgeries like double-eyelid surgery can even be given as a high school graduation gift for a teenage girl.
4. Taking Pictures
From individual to group shots, taking pictures is truly Korean. Before the word “selfie” became a worldwide common word, Koreans already have the “selca” (self camera). No wonder front cameras – from the old flip phones to today’s smartphones – are definitely a must-have feature because a day won’t end without having a perfectly cute selca.
If you’re driving in South Korea for the first-time make sure that you have your international driver’s permit or a Korean driver’s license to rent and drive. If you’re all ready to drive around, don’t be surprised by how reckless and speed-crazy some of the local drivers can be (especially if you’re in Seoul). It was even reported that among the 29 OECD countries, Korea tops the list for having the highest pedestrian death rate.
6. Stepping Up Ahead
Education in South Korea isn’t a simple phase in life wherein kids go to school, have fun with friends, learn, and go home. Koreans will spend money – and more money – just to make sure that their kids can study in English academies to get a step ahead of everyone else. Everyone wants to get jobs like being a lawyer, doctor, or an employee in any position in Korea’s top corporations so putting this kind of pressure on kids is normal for Korean parents.
7. Always Connected
Try getting on the subway and you’ll see almost everyone focused on their smartphones. They can never leave their homes without their smartphones and every place seems to be Wi-Fi ready. Not only that, you can find power outlets to charge your phone everywhere like in cafes and restaurants. So if you’re going to South Korea and you can’t live without your phone, you know that you don’t need to worry. The connection speed? You’ll totally love it.
8. Night Life
After work, Koreans can go out, have dinner and have a drink till midnight but going home after that is unusual. You can stay up around Seoul’s streets from past midnight up to 5 AM and you won’t have a dull time because stores are all ready to serve the night owls looking for fun. Karaoke, clubs, bars and coffee shops are all open but make sure you can stay lively till the next day if you have work or important errands to do.
9. Touching the Same Sex
Grossed out about the thought of seeing a man hugging and putting an arm over his bro? Sorry but in Korea, you should get used to it. Korean men and women can freely touch their friends, like holding their hands, to show affection.
Korean men also do this thing they call skinship and it’s nothing sexual at all. It’s normal to see boys holding hands, sitting on each other’s laps, stroking each other’s thighs, and even spanking each other’s bottoms. You’ve read it all right.
Koreans want to get things done as soon as possible which we’ll call the ppalli-ppalli (hurry-hurry) culture. It can be a positive trait because work can be done quickly, and Koreans won’t be left out when it comes to the newest trends like fashion and technology. It can be negative at the same time for working while having the pressure to get things done pronto may end with undesirable results.