Hundreds, or not thousands of “what-to-do-in-Korea” posts one could find out there but less about “what not to do” or any negative stuffs about a place or products. Humans are born curious, while most of the times, curiosity arouses towards things they didn’t know about. That says, me included.
Though I’m not a Korean local, however, curiosity had successfully led me towards loads of researching, K-dramas as well as countless visits to Korea, with that, I exposed myself to their cultures to the extend that I could basically call myself a local? No… I’ll just be my humble self and reject that statement, yet, many Koreans would tell me that when I’m with them.
I tend to think of when travelling to one’s country is literally like taking a visit to someone’s home. Thus, utilizing my knowledge, I’d like to share some of my insights on what you should try to AVOID in Korea.
Do not flush toilet papers into the toilet bowl.
Korea has narrower piping systems compare to most countries, so it gets easily jammed up if you’d do that, and that’d be gross, if you get what I mean. Always throw in the bin that they provided instead.
Do not pour a drink for yourself if you’re drinking with others. I meant alcohol.
Koreans are heavy drinkers, colleagues get along together every week or month to drink, probably to release stress? However, pouring a drink for yourself is a big NO NO! Maybe it relays the meaning of “being lonely”?
Remember to ALWAYS accept a drink with both hands!
Do not talk loudly or talk back, disrespecting an elderly.
I hate to say this but I think Korean cultures are still kind of conservative. Of course, respecting an elderly is something people should be doing, but in Korea, talking back or shouting (unless they have hearing impairment) at the old folks, it’s consider as disrespectful.
Do not tip.
Tipping in most countries are a norm, however it is NOT in Korea, some restaurants even banned customers for tipping their staffs. I remember once a Korean girl told a vendor to keep the change and walked away, the store owner was actually furious and swearing non-stop at her. Hmm..
Do not reject a drink if being offered, unless it’s a stranger.
I personally thinks that Koreans are a sociable group of people when you get along well with them. When being offered a drink, just take a couple of sips even if you can’t drink much instead of rejecting them directly. It makes you more sociable and friendly in my opinion.
Do not start eating before the eldest of the group starts first. (Remember, respecting an elder.)
As in point #3, respecting an older person is a culture that every Koreans bare on their minds. Therefore, it’s normal for an older person to start eating first before the younger one does. To them, this is a form of respect.
Do not talk too loud even in public places (I meant other than in subways or buses).
I remember once that a friend of mine talking ever so loudly and got HUSH! by an ahjumma. It’s an open space and I’m very sure it’s not a closed space! So my advice is that you better keep your volume a little low as it might irritates the Koreans (especially the older people).
Do not ask the restaurant staff for utensils until you have searched under the table.
Usually, if you couldn’t find utensils on the tables, it’s most likely stored in a slide out drawer beneath the table, along with tissues, or serviettes if you call it that way. It’s a smart move in my opinion, clean and tidy.
Do not talk loudly in cafes.
It’s true that there are hundreds of cafe all over Korea, but there are even more students in the whole Korea. Korean students are basically known as hardcore students as they tend to study day and night during exam periods, even in cafes. Make sure you keep it low when you are chatting with your companies or you might get caught in those killer glares. It’s gonna be awkward you know.
Don’t dress inappropriately.
Inappropriately as in too overly “exposed” of your body, especially girls wearing something that shows too much of your cleavage. If an older person saw you in that shirt, you’re gonna get nagging (not sure about scolding and yelling yet though) from them. Even if they didn’t know you personally. (Bikini is ok, just don’t walk around the city wearing it.)
Do not pay money back to your Korean friend if they treat you for a meal.
Instead, pay them back with a cup of coffee! I think this is a way that they stay in contact with each other, when a Korean treat you a meal, you treat them with a cup of coffee or something to drink in return. But I don’t think I’m able to adapt myself with this culture though.
Try to avoid eating on the go.
The reason: It’s hard to find garbage bin on the sidewalks! It’s really inconvenient to hold your trash and walking all around with it, especially if you’re a photography enthusiast like me! Though lack of bins, you hardly find trash anywhere on the roads though, and that makes Korea looks really clean.