Since we’ve been in Korea, we’ve noticed some little – as well as rather significant differences – between here and home. Take a look at some of these fascinating differences!
As mentioned previously, Koreans are all business! They always seem to be in a rush and they are generally way too fucking serious. If you have ever met us, you’ll know that we are always laughing and can sometimes be quite exuberant. That kind of behaviour is NOT the norm in Korea. It seems most people want to get from A to B in the shortest time and there is no fucking time for fun or frivolity, unless they’re kids. However, once Koreans open up, they are extremely friendly and warm! They also love chilling out. They do this by drinking a shit ton and enjoying meals in groups. Karaoke is huge in Korea too, they have karaoke bars everywhere. Everyone sings, whether they like it or not.
Most of the older generation have little to no real grasp of English, while the younger kids are enrolled in regular English lessons; however these youngsters are often painfully shy on their own. Not surprising, these kids go to school for 10+ hours a day. If you’re looking for help with directions or similar, young ladies in groups will often be your best bet. The Christians on the streets will give you sweets or coffee with their pamphlets, but luckily the only word they are able to communicate is “Jesus Christ.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses will stand in the freezing cold and stare at you or shout things through a loudspeaker.
Individuality in Korea is not in fashion and it seems like most people are striving for a rather specific look. The guys almost universally sport a bowl-cut hairstyle, Kay keeps saying, “Why would anyone do that to themselves?” Thick, black-brimmed spectacles are also common – I don’t think I’ve seen so many folks sporting specs in all my life – whereas sunglasses are very infrequently worn. Kay says that the guys look Steve Urkel if he’d been part of The Beatles, and that’s a fairly accurate description… Another thing you hardly ever see is facial hair – I am virtually the only person I have seen sporting a beard since I arrived – and bald heads are equally as infrequent. Koreans are, largely, a lot smaller and skinnier than me, so you can imagine how I stand out in a crowd.
The girls are fucking adorable! There are screaming toddlers, giggling teens, chatty women and scowling old ladies like everywhere else in the world. The difference is the toddlers whizz by constantly in Heelies, the teens and older woman sport bright red lipstick and bangs while the older women wear giant sun visors and tracksuits. In most parts of the world these features died out with perms and shoulder pads but they are still prominent for a shockingly vast majority. The dress style is super feminine and conservative. Korean women don’t often show their shoulders or toes in public. However, they do love their miniskirts. If you’re a bigger girl looking to do some clothing shopping in Korea you might struggle, most of the women here are petite.
Let’s start with the obvious: K-pop. It’s everywhere, it’s radio friendly, it looks and sounds pretty much like western music in the late ‘90s – early 2000s. The groups have a standard manufactured variety to them (that scene from Inside Out springs to mind, “I would die for Riley”). Most of the girl bands are similar to the Spice Girls. A large number of boy bands are akin to N’sync and the Backstreet Boys. There are a few stand outs which you can easily find online, but it’s a flavour of the week deal really. Their music is blasted in stores and public parks all over Korea along with an assortment of western music. We’ve heard things from Whitney Houston to TV show intros and every once in awhile you’ll hear an old western song which has been redone in Korean… Or at least it really fucking sounds like it. If you’re into alternative music you may struggle to find your scene. Pop music is forced down your earholes as it is in most of the world, and unless you’re in Seoul it’s hard to stumble onto other genres. However, with some research online you’ll likely find what your ears crave. Korea does in fact have a large alternative music scene, checking out your local bars, clubs and online sites will lead you in the right direction.
If you’re worried about having to eat some strange things in Korea rest assured; the country has an abundance of takeout joints including all your terrible favourite franchises plus a few Korean ones. A surprisingly high number of fast food and grocery store workers speak enough English to help with what you’d need. There are also tons of non-Korean food oriented restaurants. While you might struggle to find a few things (real cheese!) it is not difficult to live on food similar to what you were having back home. If you prefer to cook for yourself it can be challenging buying things without help as many items are labelled in Korean only – Google image translate is your friend. All of that being said: Korean food is fucking delicious! Meat or fish is the centre of the dish similar to western meals, however in Korea the meat arrives raw and is cooked at the table either on a grill, pan or in a pot with water. There are more tentacle options than a Japanese porn site, so if that’s your thing you’re in luck. Kimchi, soup, a variety of veggies, a fuck load of noodles and rice will be served along with your meat choice. I’d try everything at least 3 times. Even the black noodles with ice… try it. I did and I loved it. Try the pizza at your own peril… for some reason they put sweet potato on it.
Both cats and dogs are eaten in South Korea on a regular basis. It’s not something you’ll see being advertised by any means. However, they’re designated as livestock but are killed in barbaric ways which your ass can Google your damn self. Dogs are eaten by men who believe it will enhance their sexual stamina while cats are eaten by women for their perceived health benefits. While westerners find this appalling it’s the norm for the older generation of Koreans. Keeping animals as pets is a somewhat new concept. The pet owning phenomenon took off in the ‘90s with women initially choosing small dogs as their companions due to their living situations – apartments can’t hold larger dogs. I’ve seen mini dogs in tiny coats and little hats. I’ve seen doggos with dyed bits and blingy collars being carried in handbags, prams and in their owner’s arms. Very few people have large dogs as pets, even fewer people have cats. However in recent times with growing interest from the younger generation vets have started accommodating the needs of these animals too. Unfortunately this hasn’t slowed the production of dog and cat meat.