10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

Last Updated on October 1, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

korean kid stars
10 funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans


Korean culture is often a dynamic and fun to observe. Like any country, you’ll also find an adorably odd and quirky Korea.  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…

Quirky Korea

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!)

IMG 2886

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.  Gotta love modern technology in Korea.

mechanical men at construction sites korea

5. 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 going trick-or-treating!  The idea has to do with the jeonsu or gift giving.  Much like the concept of panchan at meals, Korea gives shoppers a lot of incentives to buy.

Read 9 Favorite Places in Seoul

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

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:

SAM 2543
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!


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


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


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

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.


Any fun Korean quirks you’ve noticed?

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  • 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.

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

    • Did you just describe yourself or what?

  • 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
      May 23, 2016 9:16 pm

      @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

  • You can’t polish a turd

  • 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.

  • […] Read 10 Funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans […]

  • 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.

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

  • […] Source: grrrltraveler […]

  • […] Korean culture is often a dynamic and fun to observe. …. Young to old, rich to poor, finding a grungy-looking or “ugly” Korean is like searching for a needle in a… Read More […]

  • […] I’ve had quite a few people say they’ve gotten a hoot out of reading this blog, and quite frankly it’s because it’s a hoot observing Koreans sometimes.  I absolutely adore them, but if any of you have Instagram, please go follow @shitkoreansdo. It sums up my daily observations pretty well, but the user has a lot more courage than I for documenting it all on camera.  As does this blog page: https://grrrltraveler.com/countries/asia/korea/10quirks-korea/ […]

  • 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.

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

  • Annoyed Brit!
    May 17, 2015 5:35 pm

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

  • 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
      March 3, 2015 1:10 pm

      @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.

    • 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.

  • 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. 😉

  • […] hoodies, and baseball caps. On water-slides! No kidding! Such a modest culture, really. (I found this fun list of Korean quirks, if you’re curious for more. I’ve witnessed every single one of them, […]

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