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10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

korean kid stars

10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

Korean culture is often a dynamic and fun to observe.  Most of the time, from a foreigners viewpoint, it offers interesting quirks which might leave you either scratching your head or speechless.  Here’s 10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans…

1. Koreans love English (even if they don’t always know what it means)!

Despite being unable to find a lick of English translations, whenever I need it, Koreans actually think English words are cool.

Visually speaking.

Shirts, jackets and baseball caps with English text are hip hype throughout the country.  Unfortunately, many Koreans don’t read English.  This is where the problem begins…

Read 10 shocking facts about Korean schools

Konglish shirts in Korea, bad engrish

(above) A shirt worn by my 6th grade student;
A shirt worn by my 3rd grade student
crazy English shirts in Korea offensive shirts in Korea


2. Korean women can do anything in high heels.

Korean women are Olympians when it comes to the high heel sport. They can walk, hike (not kidding) and I suspect even run, jump and climb in them (they’re also pros at wearing micro-mini skirts, for that matter!)

Korean high heels

Photo Credit: Honkey Tonk Cruzers

3. Koreans don’t like …

Okay, maybe this is going to be a mild exaggeration… but Koreans have some unique ticks when it comes to certain types of weather.

  • Rain…  Umbrellas come out at the slightest bit of precipitation. I was shopping in Bandwoldang’s outdoor plaza and it began to drizzle (no, it was barely a drizzle…); immediately, umbrellas surfaced out of the blue and almost everyone had one! The only folk walking in the drizzle without umbrellas were foreigners. Hence, Koreans don’t like to get wet.
  • Heat…  When the summer swamp hits, most folk sweat it out or fan themselves with a hand or piece of paper.  Koreans however, are always smartly prepared to battle summer heat– a paper fan in the purse is as common as a lipstick or a compact! Note: Even my elementary students bring them to class.
  • Sun…   Westerners worship the sun-god and will go to lengths to get a tan during the summer. But TAN is the least popular color in Korea. Pale and ivory skin is very vogue and is a highly prized status. Stores sell arm protectors to keep you from getting t-shirt tans and older women either carry umbrellas for shade or wear hats with abnormally large visors, which extend at least 8-10″ out.
asian parasols in Korea

Umbrellas aren’t only for rain.ajumma sun visorsAjumma wears the common ajumma visor.



4. Koreans let man(nequin)s do the work!

Watch out for that man!

Or is it? Koreans employ mannequins to do their road work.  Instead of wasting an able-bodied human waving a caution flag towards oncoming traffic, they’ve smartly substituted mechanical men to do the task.

mechanical men at construction sites korea

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5. Koreans adore incentive shopping and… freebies, freebies, freebies!

When my mom visited Seoul, one of her fun excursions was visiting the skin care shops of Myeongdong.

Does my mom love shopping? No.

Is she concerned with skin care? Not in the least.

But upon every store entrance, she was greeted by a sweet female hostess, luring her in with a tiny basket of welcome  “freebies”– a box of facial cottons, facial packs, soda, cute pencils, etc…

Shopping in Korea is like trick-or-treating!

Read 9 Places to Make you Fall in Love with Seoul

korean face stores myeongdong

Myeongdong Shopping area, Seoul.korean face productsA promotion girl stands outside the store to lure shoppers in with freebies.

Also, Koreans reward their shoppers’ time and loyalty.  From beauty product promotions to groceries, household items to food vendors… everyone will  “kick in a little extra something” to renumerate your visit or purchase.

Three terms which mean FREE or Extra:

  • “1+1” deals     (buy one, get one free)
  • “Set meals”    (Combo/All-inclusive meals)
  • “Free Service” (getting something for free)

The photos below are some examples:

I bought one Cosmo magazine; the rest came with the package!
korean cosmo magazineAnother magazine purchase came with a box of free underwearKorean laundry detergentBuy laundry detergent and you get a free garbage pail!

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6. Koreans love their satellite TV.

Americans invented television but Koreans seem to use them more, watching it when and where they can.

Everyone from the local dry cleaner, kimbap restaurants and taxi drivers seem fixated on the TV at all hours of the work day. Moreover, everything seems to have a TV on it– from the Car GPS to mobile phones to the express buses… even my chair at the dentist’s office!

A favorite metro past time: a row of Seoul metro-ites & all of them are glued to their cellphone TVs.

gps taxis in korea

GPS devices have TVs: taxi drivers have perfected the art of TV watching & driving.
tv at the dentistdentist tv in korea 

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7. Koreans are the best-dressed fashionistas of the world.

Aesthetics and presentation.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Korea has to be the best-dressed country in the world.

It’s no exaggeration, because you won’t find a sloppy Korean anywhere!. They really make an effort to be well-groomed fashionistas! It’s as if everyone’s stepped straight out of a clothing catalogue. The dress code is always form-fitted, wrinkle-free and seemingly… brand new (more here).

best dressed koreans hikers, hiking in korea

best dressed koreans, hiking in koreakorean couple tshirts

korean hikers and hiking fashion

(Above & below) Torn jeans and jogging shoes for hiking?
Nope. This is the signature style of Korean hikers; hiking could be a professional sport.

koreas matching couple t-shirts

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8. Koreans believe beauty is skin deep.

Young to old, rich to poor, finding a grungy-looking or “ugly” Korean is like searching for a needle in a haystack!

The country’s obsession with appearances and its pressure to “look good”, stems from the belief it’ll gain you a good job and higher status in society. A mole or beauty mark on your face is as good as a blemish or wort and you won’t find many old folk with white hair as long as hair dye exists!

If you have any of these imperfections, your Korean chingu (aka friend) will gladly point it out for you so you can find the nearest dermatologist to correct it. To them, this is not mean-spirited or rude, but a goodwill gesture that’s as sincere and helpful as someone pointing out when you have spinach in your teeth.

It’s a country with mirrors posted in public places, cosmetic surgery ads  posted in subways and hair salons regularly occupied. Koreans are a beautiful race, but whether it’s owed to great genes or the hands of a great surgeon; it’s sometimes, hard to tell.
koreans and beauty, koreans and plastic surgery

apgujeong

Mirrors are everywhere… in restaurants, in public subway stations and in toilet stalls
mirrors in korea

9. Koreans have more public places to squat, than to dump their trash.

Finding a clean public restroom is a challenge in any city; the exception being Korea. God love Korean public restrooms! Whenever I have to find relief, its never a problem. Hiking trails, metros, bus stations, you name it… toilets are everywhere and most are regularly maintained by hard-scrubbing ajummas!

The real enigma … is where to put your trash.

Oddly, public littering is not an issue in Korea, but whenever I need  a trash bin, they’re never to be found. The corner of cross walks, in shopping plazas, at parks or inside subway stations, etc… nada!

Whether Koreans stash their trash in their pockets and purses or if they just don’t make any, is still a mystery to me.  If anyone knows the secret to where the public trash cans are, please tell me.

10.  Koreans are afraid of CCTV!

Where crime is concerned, Korea’s got to be one of the safest countries in the world.

How they control crime is through the fear and shame of being caught on CCTV.  CCTV signs are plastered all over things–  at schools, neighborhood areas, apartment buildings, stores, subways, highways…. they’re literally everywhere and they stand as a friendly, but foreboding reminder that Big Brother is watching your every move.

And if you don’t do good, you and your family will feel the wrath of shame. Unlike Western culture, family shame in Korea is not something Koreans take lightly.

Do they check it?

Yup. I was staying at a hotel and lost my passport. I inquired at the desk in a panic. The front desk gladly called to the security department to check the CCTV (the day that I arrived). In fifteen minutes, an answer came back that “the front desk had returned it to me, I put it in my bag and went up to my room”.  I checked my room again and it found it had fallen behind a dresser!

CCTV is no false threat.

cctv

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Any fun Korean quirks you’ve noticed?

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68 Comments

  1. Whoever says:

    Hiiii I am Korean
    I saw almost reply.
    First,In korea, there r weirdos.
    And here is not different. I could awre Fuckin ediots r everywhere obviously ^_^
    Ciao

  2. hhhh says:

    @bing bong chon
    all koreans are not pig fat faced and has stinky breaths and ugly bodies
    if u think like this u dont the little bit about korea
    this is against the law to say stuff u dont even know
    dont look from the outside look inside
    i hope u understand what i want to say

  3. hhhh says:

    who says we’re afraid of the cctv
    some of these are not true!!

  4. bing bong chon says:

    koreans are all ugly. pig fat face eyes cannot open and stinky breath. ugly body figure

    • Koreans have the least scent. But they are not good looking people, of course some are. and their body figure of course is not Caucasian. Too skinny I find, but thats what they like in men and women.
      Too much plastic surgery too. Its a sad ethnic people.

    • Clara says:

      like most people koreans also have good looking people they are not all ugly and pig faced

  5. johnhenry says:

    I’d love to know where you found all those clean public toilets, unless, of course, you restricted your public loo-hunting to the international airport in Incheon. I lived in Seoul back in the late 1970s, Incheon in 2005, and spent 2006 to 2012 in Busan. Public loos are disgusting there.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @johnhenry- Ha. You’ve clearly not lived in NYC or had to use the bathrooms at Starbucks in the U.S. metropolian areas. =D The only really gross toilets I’ve seen were in rural places and absolutely disregarded. These days, there’s usually an ajumma attendant who tidies up. This is the new type of toilet that nicer shopping malls and galleries in Seoul carry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68v-c9kr6dU

  6. 222 says:

    You can’t polish a turd

  7. danom says:

    I have been in Korea for 1 month I think it’s very difficult to socialise with the locals if u r a north European and mix.

  8. 10girl10 says:

    I have lived in Gangnam- gu Seoul for the past six months and although there were a few items that I thought were questionable the statement that “Koreans are the best fashionistas in the world” is, like, whaaat?! You MUST be joking. Try Milan for that. I’ve yet to see one Korean woman I’d trade outfits with. I will say I’ve witnessez many couples on dates are dressed very neatly, as if going to Sunday dinner. I believe this article glorifies South Koreans a little too much.

  9. Kathy says:

    And I really thought I knew pretty much about Koreans. Seems I was so wrong! Thank you for so many surprising facts ^^

  10. Ashanti Lee says:

    Korean’s just throw their trash on the ground and then an adjumma or adjoshi /cleaner person picks it up. Korean’s have looked me strange for stuffing my trash in my pocket when I couldn’t find a bin.

    • silaman says:

      nope,, if you throw on ground any trash in your pocket people would see you accusingly.

  11. Annoyed Brit! says:

    Funny… though the television was most certainly not an American invention!

  12. Benny says:

    I think it is kind of unfair only to mention odd things from Korea without any explanation. Feels like Koreans are very strange. In my opinion a good article will state some funny entertaining Oddities but also deliver some answers to the reader. That would be fair to the people of the country you have been a guest at. When I came back from the USA to Europe I told my friends about the strange things that Americans think and do. But also I explained the backgrounds and why (knowing or guessing) it was different. Especially when you visit an Asian country it is necessary. And remember: these cultrures may feel strange, but if nobody will be hurted or discriminated there is no Right or Wrong. True travelling is about having that insight, I think. Thanks and keep writing interesting articles!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Benny: EVERY CULTURE has its quirks- Americans, Europeans, Asians, etc… and always be misinterpreted. The explanations you got about why Americans are they way they are was subjective. A New Yorker may have a different answer from a Los Angeleno vs a Hawaii, Ohio or Alaskan person. As travelers, we can only do the best we can with the information available to us, but that is provided it uses the same logic.

      I’ve answered questions; perhaps not in ways in which you were seeking. This is about how expats (from various different countries- UK, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, U.S, India, etc…), see these differences and accept it on a daily basis. These “quirks” aren’t just quirky because I”m American.. it’s in expat gossip mills!

      Many expats grasp for answers which are oddly, never available in Korea or online. If you ask a Korean, you’ll get a subjective viewpoint and some Koreans lie (yes, literally) to put their country in a godly light and there is an underground movement that stalks blogs too. Even on this blog, I get older netizen pretending to be kids defending the Korean school system on my post. Being an expat in Korea, it’s hard to tell which views to trust.

    • Yuni says:

      Well said. I totally agree with this. Culture is a very relative thing. some usual thing looks strange to theres. If there isn’t is a deep insight, this type of article is just like a tabloid.

  13. Jiyong Lee says:

    you may have travelled a lot or whatsoever, but you dont seem to have lived in a lot of countries. not that it’s not true or it’s offending, but there’s actually a lot of those in your list are quite common in a lot of other countries(especially the english word on t-shirts part and the shopping part with 1+1s n all…ive seen those in france, uk, us, china, germany, japan etc). i find very few that you can say ‘it’s only in korea’,(but not all of em!). euh just a comment on the toilets n trash stuff, actually as a part of preparation for the 2002 fifa world cup, they revised almost every toilets in every city which had a football stadium, and they made it almost cleaner than my bed!! but the worst toilets ive seen in my life were actually in korea in the 90s! and for the trash, well personally i stopped littering since i had to pay like 50 quids for throwing a cigarette away! trash cans are quite everywhere in the town now, like in a some countries targetted by terrorism, authorities decided to put those away to be sure nobody puts a bomb in it, that was really just before and after the world cup(cuz we feared north korean terror as there were tons of foreigners at that time). oh, and for the umbrellas, actually there are people who sell umbrellas(euh maybe something else too haha) for their living, and when you’re in the tube, there’s always a guy who sells umbrellas when it rains, and that’s quite how you know whether it’s raining or not on the surface when you’re in the tube! still think it’s a cool article you wrote here, this is almost real sociological work! 😀

    • @Jiyong Lee: Thanks for sharing your observations. I think this post is faaar from sociological work but thanks! It’s meant to be all fun observations from having lived in Korea. Cultural quirks are fun. Some obs might cross cultures, but when you see the continuous pattern over time, it becomes one of those funny things that you don’t understand & not many Koreans will explain it to you.

      The 1+1’s, I’ve never seen in the U.S. (and I’ve lived in 4 different cities). English shirts in the U.S./UK, …uh, that’s our mother language, so shirts would be in English. ha ha.. But let me explain further- the ivy league shirts like “Princeton” & “Harvard” (which seem to be the favorite schools printed in Korea), are usually mostly sold at ivy campus stores. You get them because you’ve visited the campus or are a student. Some stores in the U.S. sell them these days, but Westerners know that only “wannabes” or cheesy folk will wear them. You wear what you are, live by, experience or believe in as a statement. The other funny shirts I and my friends have seen have the most whackadoo grammar. When you’re an English teacher, seeing swear words or phrases that solicit sex on your elementary students shirts… it’s kinda shocking. We know Western mothers seldom dress their kids in shirts with derogatory phrases. Didn’t know about the umbrella guy though. That’s interesting. 😉

  14. @pioug says:

    Je confime – 10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans http://t.co/RWaoBhUkR5 via @grrrltraveler

  15. hk says:

    It’s not that Koreans don’t like rain nor are they afraid of getting wet. Koreans use umbrellas religiously b/c of the acid rain problem — just try going bareheaded a few times during spring showers in Seoul, for example, and you’ll find less and less need for a comb everyday.

  16. Tom Gates says:

    This was a funny list. Some of them make me laugh, and then some remind me how crazy the thought patterns are here! The one that sticks out is how they love their satellite tv. Or just mobiles for that matter. They find it impossible to sit in a subway car and just relax for the sake of sitting and relaxing. Always looking for a text or game or something.
    They also don’t like to be in videos. Whenever I break out my video camera, they cover up like I’m going to attack them. It’s very funny with the students. Sometimes I do it to get them to focus again in class.
    Crazy!

  17. Sarah Shaw says:

    Thank you so much for understanding, Christine! Of course you can use the photo. I’m glad you like it.^^

  18. Sarah Shaw says:

    Hello Christine,
    First of all, you have a great blog. I recently started reading some of your posts a few months ago, since I’m also an English teacher in Korea, and I was an exchange student in Seoul in 2009. I just came across this post (although I realize it’s a year old) and was shocked to see one of my photos of the girl wearing high heels in the sand here from my old blog, with the credit “Photo credit: Amber Anda (blog).” I know this is not your fault, but I’m a bit irked that this girl Amber Anda stole my photo without giving me credit. Would you mind changing the info to my name “Sarah Shaw @ http://www.mappingwords.com” instead? I would really appreciate it. I can also send you the original file, if you need proof. Again, I’m not trying to hassle you. I really love your blog, I’m just a bit annoyed that my photo was plastered on someone else’s website without giving me proper credit.
    Thank you, Christine.
    Best,
    Sarah

    • @Sarah: Absolutely no hassle. I’m glad you corrected me and I hope it’s okay that I use the photo (if not, let me know I’ll promptly remove it). Anyways, I’m all for proper credit to where it’s due and it’s a great photo example of how Korea’s high heel crazy. I had some of my photos used without being credited and those sites weren’t even fellow ‘bloggers’ but sites that should know better; so I had to contact them in the way you’re doing me.

  19. Tommy says:

    Hahaha I’m Korean. This is so interesting even I’m Korean. Funny and nice article.

  20. Zane says:

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  21. Anne says:

    Hello there..I will be visiting Korea mid-May and I read through your posts, laughing, being entertained and taking down notes esp, the places to visit ..thank you for sharing them unselfishly. It made life easier. Will be backpacking from Jeju- Busan- Gyeongju-Andong- Seoul. I really hope to catch the haeneyo.

  22. Rory says:

    Americans did not invent television…..John Logie Baird, a fellow Scotsman, did.

  23. Lee J. Yi says:

    Great post. Just thought I would explain why the couples are wearing matching outfits. As I understand it, that’s the “uniform” for couples who are on their honeymoon.

    • @Lee J Yi: Thanks for the insider tip! I didn’t know if there was any significance to it, other than being ‘couple’ outfits. Obviously you don’t see it around on every couple. Glad you shared! 😉

  24. Tamar says:

    This post is 100% spot on. 🙂 I’m glad to see that Korean women are starting to take hiking more seriously (fewer miniskirts and high heels and more hiking boots, water bottles and sun hats).
    In another note, I am not Korean and I can run and power walk in my high heels. Hubby thinks I’m nuts.

  25. Couldn’t agree more to your post.
    I noticed that mostly Koreans dislike meeting other Koreans by chance in other country. While I, as another Asian, like it when I met people from the same country by chance in other countries. According to one of my Korean chingu, she doesn’t like to meet other Koreans because Korean people are so many, and it’s not fun to meet the same language people in other country. But the funny part is, for working overseas Korean, they tend to stick with their Korean society. Not sure if these people has the same point of view with the Koreans residents, but it sure happens.

    • @Anna: Interesting observation. I had a similar experience. Oddly, Koreans overseas do seem cliquish, but my only experience is my MFA program in NYC. There wasn’t much mixing between Koreans and foreigners & Americans. I’m not sure if this was due to the discomfort of having to speak English, though. Other Asians however- Chinese, Thai, etc…- used the schooling abroad to meet foreigners, mingle and immerse themselves in the language and culture. Koreans seemed a little more shy about it and didn’t seem to want to speak much English. A bit tough when you’re in an MFA program in the U.S. ha ha…

  26. Trvl8dintern says:

    I love your post! Matching couples are the sweetest 😉 <3

  27. Valerie says:

    Just “discovered” your blog today and spent half of my afternoon reading your posts on Korea 🙂 Been planning a solo trip to Seoul and all the things you said is really helpful. I also wanted to travel to other places in Asia just like you did. Love your blog 🙂

  28. Mich says:

    I think they are not scared of rain but afraid of getting sick. I grew up thinking the same way and still carry an umbrella and use it in any hint of rain. 🙂
    Good observations!

  29. Laura in Cancun says:

    WOW! So many things to comment on here…

    The couple matching is crazy, but I kinda love it! Not that I’d ever do it though.

    I love how the free samples amount to more than the purchase.

    It’s best to be pale here in Mexico, too, but they don’t go to such extremes.

    I love TV, but I can’t imagine being surrounded by it ALL THE TIME!

  30. xweing says:

    Great post!!!!!!! Love the lists that you make about Korea… you really spent a lot of effort documenting all of your sights in photos!~

  31. Feather Ives says:

    This is a genius post. Thanks for the compilation.

    F

  32. Malou says:

    Great post! Reminded me of all the quirky things I miss in Korea!

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