Top 10 “culture shocks” I’ve experienced during my first month of living in South Korea:
1) “Do you have boyfren?” – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question since I’ve been here, as well as many other personal questions such as, “Are you married?” or “What’s your blood type?” As it turns out, the reason why Koreans ask so many personal questions upon meeting you is because they find it important to find out relevant info so they can place you in their hierarchy system. Rank is important here; even a one year difference is a big deal.
2) First come cars, then come pedestrians – Back in California, I used and abused my rights as a pedestrian; here, I will think twice before I jaywalk, because if I do, there’s a very good chance I will get hit by a merciless driver. Come to think of it, I did almost get run over once: by a guy on a moped while I was walking on the sidewalk.
3) Appearance is everything. Well, almost everything – One of the first things I noticed when I got here is how many beauty supply stores there are and the random places in which you can find said stores, for instance: the grocery store. Imagine walking through Safeway and finding a cluster of mini-Ultas and mini-Sephoras next to the beverage section. Seriously, beauty shops are as common here as Starbucks in America: They’re on every corner.
4) And I thought I was a bad driver – The driving here is bad. Really bad. Like, so bad, sometimes I get scared for my life while riding on the bus or in a taxi. Not only do these vehicles scare me, they make me carsick: If I’m on the bus/in a taxi for more than 15 minutes, I’ll start to get nauseous. Koreans definitely give a whole new meaning to the term “crazy Asian driver.”
5) Spatial awareness? What’s that? – When it comes to just walking down the street, the people here have no manners or sense of courtesy. If someone bumps into you, there’s a 99% chance they won’t say “Excuse me” or “Sorry.” Pushing and shoving is the norm here, and it happens even when you least expect it; one time, I walked off the bus and immediately got shoved; another time I got pushed when I was just standing and minding my own business. And by a man, too! If chivalry ever existed here, it must have died a long time ago.
6) Work hard,
play work harder – The 9-5 job/40 hour work week doesn’t exist here; instead, it’s the 9-8/60 hour work week. Essentially, Koreans work their asses off, and I’m not just talking about the adults; the kids bust their asses too by not only going to school on Saturdays, but by going to school at night in addition to going to school during the day. They do this because a good education is highly valued here, as well as getting into a prestigious college.
7) Everything is small. Well, compared to America’s standards – Another major cultural difference I immediately noticed is that the food/drink portions are smaller: There’s no such thing as “super size,” “extra large,” or “venti” here. Because of this, the people are smaller; therefore, the clothes and shoe sizes are smaller: I went clothes shopping last Sunday and had my self-esteem damaged for life because I couldn’t seem to find anything that fit. (I’m a size 10; I think the biggest size they have in most stores is an 8.)
8 ) Helloooo, Technology – If I thought I was tech-retarded when I lived in America, I am full on tech-illiterate living here. Internet speeds are exponentially faster; direct deposit is not an option, but a requirement; even third graders carry around cell phones. Needless to say, South Korea is way ahead of the technology game.
9) Keep your pants on and your shoulders covered – It is without a doubt that the Korean culture is more on the conservative side. It’s not often when you see couples displaying PDA, or girls wearing scandalous clothing out on the street. And when I say “scandalous,” I mean… a tank top. Oh, and don’t even think about living with your boy/girlfriend before you two are married.
10) A different kind of PDA – Don’t be quick to judge if you’re walking down the street and see a couple of girls, or even guys, holding hands or locking arms. They’re not gay or lesbian; they’re good friends! Trust me, the notion of homosexuality is almost unheard of here.