Living in a city or country where the Olympics will be held is a fantastic experience and exceptional time for anyone. South Korea is no exception. A country where high tech meets traditional Asia, S. Korea offers everything from beautiful landscapes to 5000 years of history and culture. It’s a fusion of ancient and modern in every aspect of life. Here's what you need to know when you go to S. Korea.
People: Don’t be surprised by Koreans asking very personal information right off the bat. In Confucian tradition, Koreans live according to vertical, hierarchical relationships: age and position being prime determinants of how one is treated. In other words, the older you are or the higher your position at work will command a higher respect and determine how you are treated. If you are asked “How old are you, What is your (your husband’s) position, How much money do you make,” it’s not an invasion of privacy and don’t get annoyed. It’s just the Korean way of establishing your position and is built into and enforced in the language they use to speak to you. Be aware also that Koreans are extremely shy and the idea of chatting up a random stranger is, in some sense, a faux pas. People waving you away in dismissal if you’re lost and need directions can come across as rude. Some people believe it’s also because Koreans will not speak English because they believe their language skills are not perfect. Once the ice is broken, Koreans are have a great sense of humor, are very friendly and enjoy after-hours socializing.
Food: The Korean cuisine is spicy. Every meal is a feast, both for the eyes and stomach. Every meal is preceded by a slew of appetizers or ‘Banchan’ including the staple Kimchi (fermented cabbage), pickled radishes, bean sprouts, fish cakes. Seating on the floor is not uncommon in Korea and be aware that many restaurants can be located on the second or third floor of buildings. Note: some Koreans eat dog meat, more popular among older gentlemen for its supposed power to enhance stamina and virility. “Gaegogi” is a specific breed of dog raised in East Asia for food.
Shopping: Everything can be found in Korea and at very reasonable prices, but size might be a challenge. There’s a huge selection of cosmetics, fashions and shoes, both western and traditional. Larger sizes are not readily available, so consider having shirts, jackets and pants tailor made. Tailors are very affordable and widespread and will even put a personalized name tag on your item. Korean souvenirs are very colorful and affordable. There’s more than you’ll be able to take back including traditional mini pouches, Hanji and other artful stationary, Korean snacks, embroidery, and more.
Travel: Intercity buses, high speed, bullet trains and slower scenic trains are affordable and frequent throughout the peninsula. S. Korea also has eight international airports (most major cities have an airport) so flying from city to city allows for expedited travel.
* There is NO tipping in Korea. The Korean people take pride in what they do and how they do things they are paid to do. In fact, if you leave a tip, don’t be surprised if the waitress comes shouting after you, to return your money.
* Bowing is the traditional way of greeting and handshakes can accompany bowing (especially among men). However, always support the right hand with your left when shaking hands, exchanging business cards, giving or receiving gift.
* Don’t pour your own drink. In fact, pouring drinks for others is considered proper. Similarly, don’t point with chopsticks or leave them sticking out of the bow.
Language: Learning a few, useful expressions in Korean can help break the ice and make living, working or travelling in Korea very rewarding. Here are some useful phrases.
Ahn-yeong-ha-se-yo - Hello
Jwe-song-ham-ni-da - Sorry
Ju-se-yo - Please/Please give me
Ban-gap-sum-ni-da - Nice to meet you.
Jam-shi-man-yo - Give me a second/Hold on
Kam-sa-ham-ni-da - Thank you
O-di-ye-yo - Where is (it)?
Ol-ma-ye-yo - How much is it?
Han-guk-mal jal mot-hae-yo - My Korean isn’t very good.