During our stay here so far (4 months) we have noticed 5 imperative characteristics of Korean culture :
1.They are extremely efficient with space here, everywhere we have been there are stores among stores that are stacked up upon one another as an effective means to save space. Its like a Lego city, you just keep stacking levels until you can stack no more! Take for example their Hyundai and Shinsegae department stores, they have over 14 levels! Can you say vertigo? And shop until you drop? Shinsegae in Busan is the largest department store in the world and should be appropriately dubbed the most expensive. With the average sweater costing over 200,000 won it is definitely not for the coupon-using, penny saving folk.
2. Koreans are brutally honest and will say it like it is to you, especially when it comes down to your appearance and if you look different. My boyfriend Ryan has had some students call him and I quote, “Dracula”, “Pregnant”, and “ OMG!” to name a few. Koreans are also very conscious about weight maintenance, which was witnessed first hand when we went walking along a nature trail and there was a workout gym OUTSIDE! So we started to play around and an older gentlemen went up to Ryan, pointed at his stomach and shook in head in disapproval. He then proceeded to give Ryan some workout advice. What did we learn that day? Koreans have no shame in telling you what they think. And that Ryan just found himself a free trainer!
3. There are no stop signs that we have seen here in Korea so far, what does that mean? That cars and motorcycles pretty much just zoom down the street without so much as a glance at pedestrians. Drivers here are like fast bees that buzz right by you before you even realize what happened. Basically every time we are walking out on the streets we are risking our lives. Pedestrian walking is a very dangerous pastime, we do it at our own risk.
4.Rock, paper, scissors or “Kai Bai Bo” solves everything here in Korea. It determines the result of every serious dilemma from deciding who is going to read next in my class to elderly people deciding who is paying the bill in restaurants. This tradition is inherently applicable to any age demographic, and noticeably an effective deal breaker.
5. The Foreigner nod; yes it is not really an inherent part of Korean culture, but it is definitely a pretty cool and rare thing that we have encountered every now and then in Korea. As foreigners we are no stranger to this customary gesture given when meeting other foreigners. Some just give you the simple nod of acknowledgement while others will be extra friendly and bestow a warm wave and a hello. There are two types of foreigners: the ones who feel a wave of relief when they come into contact with such a racial rarity and are so happy to wave and greet you. Then there is the foreigner snob which is the one we have encountered many times where they simply just try to ignore you and walk past you very quickly with maybe a subtle side glance or a small grin. I am confuzzled by this situation, if you see another person such as yourself why would you try to avoid them?! You should be welcoming each other with open arms. Its like the big elephant in the room; everyone knows its there, but they refuse to acknowledge it. They know there is a foreigner beside them, yet they completely ignore them. What is up with that? Despite the “foreigner snub”, its comforting that in a new environment there are still some people out there who feel just as out of place as you.
These are just some of the major observations that I have made during my short stay here so far. What are some other special Korean qualities or customs? I would love to hear more!
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