1. Shoes must be removed – Forgetting to remove your shoes in someone’s home is a big ‘no-no’ in Korea. Korean’s and westerners alike are expected to remove their shoes prior to entering someone’s home regardless of the person’s status, age or your personal relationship. Some restaurants that offer classic floor sitting dining will also require patrons to remove their shoes before entering the establishment. Certain businesses and even schools may have specific rooms or areas where shoes are not allowed. How will I know when shoes need to be removed? In most instances you will see a shoe rack outside the area where shoes are prohibited. Similarly, you’ll likely find a group of communal slippers near the shoe rack which you’re free to use after your shoes have been removed.
2. Taxi drivers may decline to take you to your requested destination – Don’t be surprised to enter a taxi only to find out the driver is unwilling to take you to your requested destination. It’s okay, this is quite normal and you’re not experiencing racism! Korean taxi drivers do the same thing with Koreans as well. Taxi drivers in Korea tend to decline passengers when the destination is unfamiliar, not far enough (small fair), or because they’re not interested in going to the area you’ve requested. In some instances the driver may be reluctant to deal with a foreigner because of the language barrier; however, overall Korean taxis are quite reliable and highly available.
3. Sales associates will follow you around, literally standing in your shadow – When shopping at retail or department stores in Korea don’t be surprised to find sales representatives following your every step, in many cases they’re actually close enough to stand in your shadow. Some Westerners may view this sales tactic as overly aggressive and possibly intrusive but in reality its part of their job and they’re doing what they’ve been instructed to do. Contrary to western views, many Koreans view establishments that lack nearby sales associates as failing to provide good service.
4. Pizzas doused with honey mustard (this is not a typo) – If you’re like me than you enjoy eating a tasty pizza once or twice a month. South Korea has dozens of excellent pizza franchises, including numerous western franchises which include Dominoes, Mr. Pizza and Pizza Hut. However, don’t expect the menus to be similar to the same franchises in the West. Many Korean pizzas come topped with sweet potato, corn niblets and you guessed it, honey mustard! Not to worry, it’s still quite easy to find normal western style pizza. Ordering a pizza to your apartment generally comes with ketchup, hot sauce packets and sliced sweet pickles.
5. McDonalds delivers! Mickey D’s lovers will surely enjoy is the delivery service. That’s right; many McDonald’s restaurants in Korea offer a delivery service. Even better, some of the McDonalds restaurants, primarily in the big cities, offer 24hr delivery to select areas.
6. Older people may bypass long lineups and essentially bud in front of you: Although line-up budding isn’t a prevalent practice in Korea you’ll likely experience it from time to time. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were able to bypass long lines when you’re older?
7. Odd or inappropriate questions from new acquaintances: Koreans sometimes start conversations with questions that some westerners may find inappropriate (How old are you? Do you have siblings? What type of family are you from? Etc.) In most cases these types of questions are being asked to determine how you should be addressed (are you younger or older than the other person, are you the oldest or youngest sibling in your family, etc. are all important factors when Koreans are determining how to address you and to what degree of formality). Note: It’s not rude or offensive to refrain from answering personal questions.
8. Everything talks in Korea: When it comes to embracing modern technology Korea is definitely at the forefront. Having spent considerable time in Korea it was easy to see, hear is probably more appropriate for this article, that many common technologies in Korea are equipped with voice technology. If you live in a city then you’ll likely hear various devices speaking to you regularly. Get in an elevator and it will say hello then tell you what floor it’s destined for, use a keypad to open your door and an automated voice will welcome you back then tell you when the doors been relocked, enter a commercial building and listen to various devices directing you where to go, and on and on it goes. If you’re easily annoyed by talking devices then it’s probably best to invest in some quality earplugs!
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