Travel Survival Tips for Korea: Navigating Korean Culture
Korean lifestyle and culture can feel very different for Western travelers. Asian travelers may feel the difference, as well. How different is it? I’ll let you be the judge.
My last video post was about Travel Essentials for Seoul, so this week I wanted to share five travel essentials for Korea for navigating Korean culture!
Travel Essentials for Korean Culture
1. Is Korea Safe?
The question “Is Korea Safe?” happens to be a very popular question for travelers.
Korea happens to be one of the safest countries I’ve been to yet! The honor system in Korea is pretty good (watch the video for explanation). But that doesn’t mean that crime doesn’t and can’t exist. One way Korea ensures safety is CCTV, a big brother surveillance system which runs throughout the country. If there ever were a crime, you can easily check out the CCTV footage . They have CCTV cameras installed everywhere: neighborhoods, parks, schools, convenience marts, streets, highways, etc…
When I thought I lost my passport and went to the front desk because I knew it was the last place I took it out, the manager went to the security room and then after 15 minutes, returned and told me that from the CCTV footage, he noticed I had taken my passport up to the room! Lo and behold, when I scoured my room, I discovered my passport had somehow fallen behind a dresser bureau.
2. Nose Blowing
In Korea, it’s considered rude to blow your nose. Thus, to navigate spicy Korean food and your nose running, you’ll have to dab your nose with a tissue. Some Koreans will just suck the mucus back up.
3. Travel Survival Phrases
If you’re in Seoul, English is a little more common, especially around the younger generation. Outside Seoul, it gets a little more spare. Firstly, greetings and formalities are always appreciated. I’m not only including it because it’s an easy starter. You’ll be saying Hello a lot.
Korean culture respects formality and tradition. In fact, in Korean daily interactions, age (and whomever is senior) determines how you ideally would address the person you’re talking to, so there’s a hierarchy in interactions, even amongst the younger generations. So while Koreans know travelers probably don’t understand their language or rules, it’s often nice to have some phrases, just in case.
Annyeong-haseyo Hello (Koreans almost always greet people upon entrance)
Kamsahamnida Thank you.
Gomapsumida Thank you.
Hwah-jahngshil odi-ehyo? Where is the toilet?
___________ odi-ehyo? Where is ________? [ Tip: It helps if you have a map that you can point to]
Olmay-ehyo How much? (or you can gesture this)
Tip for Navigating Language Barriers
This is a hit or miss technique but Korean language uses some English words (aka Konglish). Thus, you can attempt English. In many cases, the word is spoken almost similarly to how you might speak it, but with a Korean accent.
Quick rules to using Korean accents
The Korean language does not have hard sounding consonants. Instead, certain hard sounding consonants will be merged together to make the same alphabet. Thus, you’ll often see Koreans spell the same word differently. For example :
Let’s take cities Daegu/Taegu or Busan/Pusan:
“d” and “t”s are the practically considered the same alphabet in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). However, they’re not pronounced like how you’d hear them in the U.S. In Korea, it’s pronounced a bit like a nasal “d” or “t”… a soft tongue tap, rather than a clenched teeth type of strike. Similar with “b” and “p”s or “g” and “k”s.
Also, there are no “f”s in the Korean pronunciation, so any “f” is pronounced more like a “p”. (i.e. “coffee”= “Kopi”)
4. Making offerings with both hands
In Korea, little forms of etiquette are important. When offering or accepting anything– money, gifts or food — use both hands. For example, if you’re paying or receiving change from the cashier at a convenience store, do so with both hand. Please watch the above video for examples.
5. Where to Go Potty?
Public restrooms are easier to find and more omnipresent than trash cans. You’ll find them in subways, train stations, shopping malls, parks, coffee houses, a lot of places. However, always take your tissues with you, as they might not have toilet paper.