You probably already know that Korean culture is very different. In this article, I will present unique facts about Korea. Things that only exist in Korea.
- Fast Fast (빨리 빨리)
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Ppalli Ppalli (빨리 빨리). Ppalli Ppalli means fast fast in Korean. Koreans often say Ppalli Ppalli and also do Ppalli Ppalli.
South Korea was poorer than North Korea in the 1950s after the Korean War. However, South Korea began to grow economically in the 1970s and is now one of the OECD countries. In South Korea, the history of democracy as well as the economy is much shorter than in Europe. We always had to follow quickly because we started late.
We eat Ppalli Ppalli, we walk Ppalli Ppalli, we also work Ppalli Ppalli. In the restaurant you can see how fast Koreans eat.
- Delivery Service (배달서비스) & Quick Service (퀵서비스)
The origin of the delivery service seems to come from Chinese restaurants. Usually, Chinese restaurants were run by Chinese born and living in Korea. They developed Jajangmyeon (자장면) and Jjambong (짬뽕), the Korean Chinese cuisine. There are Jajangmyeon and Jjambong only in Korea, not in China.
Jajangmyeon and Jjambong are delivered to your home without paying extra. Not just to the house, but to the beach, the park or the bridge. Anywhere.
Delivery service has been widely developed in Korea for a long time. We already ordered online 15-20 years ago. Also food like now in the Corona crisis.
There is also quick service (퀵서비스)! For example, I urgently want to send a document within Seoul in a few hours. Then I’ll call Quick Service. Someone will come to my house and pick it up. He rides the motorcycle to deliver it.
These services probably came from the Ppalli Ppalli culture.
- The Korean Age (한국나이)
Korean has a unique aging system because we also add the nine months of pregnancy in the womb. Plus, we turn a year older at the turn of the year.
One is a year or two older in Korean age than in international age.
Before your birthday, you are two years older than your current age in Korea, and after your birthday, you are one year older.
If you want to know more, click the article about Korean age.
- Kitchen scissors (주방가위)
In Korea, scissors are a necessity among kitchen utensils.
We usually use them when grilling to cut meat and also to cut kimchi. You can often see them in the restaurant. Every house has kitchen shears.
If you’ve never heard of them, try a pair of scissors for cooking! She’s practical.
- Free side dish (무료 반찬), seconds (추가 반찬) & service (서비스).
Koreans always eat with lots of side dishes. If you order a main course in the restaurant, you also get free side dishes and you can get as much of them as you want.
If we order a lot and the boss is nice, a small meal can be on the house. That’s service (서비스) we get for free.
Some restaurants, especially the Grill House (고기집) have a small coffee machine by the entrance. The coffee maker is for Korean instant coffee (믹스커피 mixed coffee). The coffee is sweet and delicious. After the meal you can take a small cup of coffee for free. This is also part of the service.
You don’t necessarily have to order drinks at the restaurant. Tap water is always included, but tap water is not a service because it is offered anyway. Still, tipping is not expected.
- Call bell (호출벨, 주문벨)
In the restaurant, the waiter does not ask the guests if there is anything else they would like.
If the waiter asks often or takes empty bowls, guests feel bad. That means they’ll have to go out soon. Therefore, we must call out to Him when we need something. If the restaurant is large, there is sometimes a bell on each table. We can ring the bell and the waiter will come to us.
When you want to pay, you don’t ring the call bell, you have to go to the cashier.
Convenience store (편의점) & restaurants are open 24 hours a day
Convenience stores are similar to supermarkets at the gas station because they are open 24 hours. However, in Korea, you can sit down at the convenience store and eat something. There is a convenience store on every block.
Some restaurants are also open 24 hours, so you’ll never go hungry in Korea.
- Korean-style Western food (한국식 서양음식 – 퓨전음식)
There are many western restaurants in Korea such as pizzerias and burger restaurants.
There are pizzas like in Europe and also special pizzas like sweet potato pizza.
Rice burger instead of bread or bulgogi burger. For bakeries, you can also try a sweet potato pie or green tea pie.
- Café (커피숍)
You think Asians drink a lot of tea. Yes, true, but Koreans are an exception.
Koreans naturally drank a lot of tea in the past, but now they drink more coffee than tea.
If you go to Seoul, you can see how many cafes there are.
There are many Starbucks and also many Korean coffee chains. There are not only big chains, but also many small cafés.
Because of the American influence, Koreans also drink a lot of Americano.
Koreans work very hard and always do things quickly. Coffee has become a necessity for these modern people.
Coffee chains in Korea have large tables, free internet, and air conditioning so students can study and use the computer for hours. As a student, I also often studied in the café.
Coffee chains are self-service. When Koreans order something or even when they go to the bathroom, they leave their bags or cell phones on the table. The bags or cell phones are not stolen. Be careful, though!
- Cosmetic surgery (성형수술)
A few years ago I met a Korean woman in Salzburg who was travelling through Europe. She was surprised because I didn’t have plastic surgery.
I had friends 20 years ago who had plastic surgery for double eyelids.
Currently, not only the eyes, but also the nose and body are operated. And not only women, but also men are operated.
If you look at Korean singers or actors, they all look similar. They have big eyes, a high nose and white skin.
My eyes are small and do not have double eyelids. My nose is also small and my skin is darker than other Koreans.
As a kid, my friends teased me because my eyes are small and my skin is dark. I also envied my friends’ big eyes and white skin.
But I realized that I can’t change it and I don’t want the same thing as others.
The world has changed!
I have become a special being because many Koreans have big eyes because of plastic surgery and whiter skin because of skin care.
The traveler told me like this. ”Currently, you can’t see much of the original because many Koreans had plastic surgery.” She said it’s rare to see Koreans who don’t have plastic surgery. I am original! Haha!
Of course, plastic surgery is done to be pretty, but Korean society places great importance on appearance. Looks are even important when looking for a job.
- Is makeup polite? (화장은 예의?)
As I said, appearance is important in Korean society. That’s why you have to wear makeup when you work. Koreans think that makeup is also a courtesy.
I don’t usually wear makeup myself, but I always wear makeup when I teach.
I no longer teach in Korea, but only in Salzburg. That said, I wear makeup and formal wear and no jeans when I teach.
I was surprised that Europeans don’t use face cream. Koreans basically apply two cosmetics, toner and lotion, every day. Not only women, but also men! Currently, men also use other cosmetics such as BB or CC cream.
For this reason, Korean cosmetics are known.
- Bikini jacket? (비키니 자켓?)
There is sea on three sides of Korea, so Korea has many beautiful beaches too!
Koreans naturally go to the beach in the summer.
You may then see women on the beach wearing not only bikinis, but a thin jacket over the bikini. Why? Because we were influenced by Confucianism, Korean society is still conservative. Especially where women are concerned.
Later I will write in detail about the life and social status of women in Korea.
When I go to the beach or abroad with my friends, I only wear a bikini, but with family or acquaintances I also wear a jacket that can cover the body. I don’t want to, but then my sister gives me her jacket because her husband is there.
I have also seen many Korean women in South Asia wearing the jacket on the beach.
- Lesbians? (레즈비언?)
You can sometimes see women in Korea holding hands or walking with their arms crossed. They’re not lesbians. Usually girls do this when they’re really close friends. Sometimes I do that too, but I prefer men! Haha!
- Fastest Internet in the World (세계 최고속 인터넷)
It is said that Korea’s internet speed is number 1 in the world. I’ve heard this from foreign friends who live in Korea.
Cafes, restaurants and many other places offer free internet. When I lived in Korea 10 years ago, free internet was already provided on the subway.
- Naver (네이버) & Kakaotalk (카카오톡)
Google and Whatsapp are not widely used in Korea. Korea’s IT industry has developed rapidly, and Koreans always want something of their own. We use Naver instead of Google and Kakaotalk instead of Whatsapp.
If you want to have Korean friends, use Kakaotalk!
- Early Adopter (얼리 어답터)
Koreans generally like new things better than used ones.
When Korea developed economically in the 1970s, they destroyed all the old houses and rebuilt them.
Currently, there are many 20- and 30-story apartment buildings in Korea, but these apartments are usually rebuilt after 30 years. When I see buildings hundreds of years old in Europe, it’s great!
Koreans like not only new homes, but also new cars and other products. Electrical appliances are no exception. In particular, there are many early adopters who always buy the latest electronic products. Korea has the world’s largest electronics companies such as Samsung and LG. Therefore, Koreans are amazed when they see someone using an old cell phone or no smartphone.
Koreans seem to think so. Everything has to be computerized and automated to make things better and life more livable.
- Free toilets everywhere (무료 화장실).
Toilets are free in Korea. There are public toilets at every subway station.
You can just go to the bathroom at McDonald’s or Starbucks without ordering. Also, you can go to the restroom at large corporate buildings. Restrooms in large buildings are always open to all.
There are two types of toilets in Korea. One is like Europe, but the other is like the photo.
In my opinion, this type of toilet also seems to have something to do with seating culture. However, there are few such toilets nowadays.
- Seoul Transportation System (서울 교통시스템)
South Korea has about 51,700,000 inhabitants, but the capital Seoul has 9,770,000.
About 1/5 of the Korean population lives in Seoul. With the number of people living in the metropolitan area and with commuters, it is about 1/4 of the population.
Congestion has been severe for a long time, but since 2004, Seoul has introduced the central city bus lane, where only city buses can travel. Since then, there is very little congestion when you take the bus. However, there is still a lot of congestion if you are driving.
When you take the bus in Seoul, you must get on and off in the middle lane.
In addition, the system of city buses and the subway is interconnected. So we don’t have to pay extra to switch. Since the systems are connected, we pay with the smart card T-Money or credit card.
It is imperative that you enter the bus at the front door and exit at the back door. There’s a device by the entrance. Then you have to scan the card on the device to pay. There’s another device by the exit. Before you get out, tap again. If you change to another bus or subway within 30 minutes, the fare will be added to the further distance.
If you don’t tap the card on the device when you get off the bus, the base fare will be charged again when you transfer.
The fare in Seoul is cheaper than in other countries, but because of this system, it has become even cheaper.
- Seats for pregnant women on public transport (임신배려석)
There are separate seats for children, the elderly or people with disabilities on the bus or subway, but Korea has also had seats for pregnant women since 2013. In Korea, there is the phenomenon of the “population cliff” due to the low birth rate.
Young people today don’t want to have children because prices are rising and the cost of raising children is high.
The government even set up these pink seats to increase the birth rate.
It’s very cold in Korea in the winter, so there are heated seats on the subway.
When your buttocks get warm, you will soon fall asleep.
Some bus stops even have the heated seats even though it’s outside.
This seat heating system comes from Ondol, the traditional Korean floor heating system. It was declared a national intangible cultural heritage of Korea in 2018.
If you want to know more about traditional heating in Korea, read this article about Korean weather. In describing the winter, I also wrote extensively about Ondol.
- Spatial culture (방문화)
Spatial culture is also closely related to Korean Ondol culture. Through Ondol, the culture of sitting developed. That’s why Koreans did everything in one room. Eat, sleep, study and work.
Koreans love space culture even now. Room is called Bang (방) in Korean.
Karaoke is called Norae Bang (노래방), song bang, by singing only with friends. PC Bang (피씨방) by using internet or playing computer game. Video Bang (비디오방) or DVD Bang (DVD방), by renting and watching old videos. Usually couples go to the video bang.
- Jjimjil Bang (찜질방).
Jjimjil Bang (찜질방) is public bathhouse by basically doing sauna but there are many different areas such as Ondol Bang, PC Bang, restaurant and fitness center.
When you go to the Jjimjilbang, you will be given a pair of pajamas to wear.
These thermal baths are divided between men and women.
Since it’s open 24 hours, you can stay there overnight. However, Jjimjilbang is a public house, so you will have to sleep on the floor with several people. Also, this is not a shelter, so there are no blankets.
Jjimjilbang is also a good option if you want to save money on your trip.
Baked eggs (맥반석 계란) and the traditional Korean sweet rice drink Sikhye (식혜) available at Jjimjilbang’s restaurant are truly delicious. It is a must try them!
- Italian Towel? (이태리 타월)
This is a bath additive used to scrub the outermost layer of skin. It’s called Italian Towel, Itaeri Towel (이태리 타월). Itaeri is Italy in the Chinese script hanja (한자). Then it’s from Italy? Yep! The fabric was imported from Italy and with it the Itaeri Towel was invented.
Originally, this is usually green, but nowadays it is made in different colors. It’s rough, so it can hurt when you first use it.
There are public baths in Korea. Currently, people go to the Jjimjilbang more than baths because there are baths in the Jjimjilbang. When I was a kid, I used to go to a public bath, but at that time there was always a staff to scrub the skin layer of the customers with the Itaeri Towel. Of course, you have to pay extra for it.
Koreans first stay in warm water for a while and then scrub the skin with the Itaeri Towel. Then we feel refreshed. We don’t do it every day, but sometimes.
All Koreans have this Itaeri Towel. Now I have one too, but it’s torn, so I want to get some from Korea.
Do you also want to bathe with the Itaeri Towel?
- Aftercare home for mothers (산후조리원).
Koreans think that postpartum care is very important. You think the mother needs to recover.
I’m the fourth child. I have three older sisters and a younger brother. My mother and grandmother were desperate to have a boy. When I was born, my grandma was so disappointed. So my mom told me that she got sick after I was born because my grandma didn’t take care of her aftercare properly.
After my mom gave birth to my younger brother, my mom got the aftercare right and she didn’t get sick from then on.
Korean mothers eat seaweed soup with every meal (미역국) for at least a month after giving birth because seaweed soup is good for the uterus. My sister ate the soup for three months.
Mothers must also take care to keep their bodies warm for at least a month.
Normally their mothers take care of them at home after birth, but since 1999 there have been aftercare homes in Korea.
They usually stay there for at least two weeks to relax. Families can also visit them there without taking care of them.
- Chauffeur Service (대리운전) & Valet Parking (발레파킹)
Koreans like to drink about as much as Irish people. There are instances when they suddenly drink or need to drink.
Even though you have already been driving, you are of course not allowed to drive again after drinking. So what do you do?
One can call Daeri Unjeon Service (대리운전). Daeri (대리) means replacement and Unjeon (운전) is driving. A chauffeur from Daeri Unjeon Service will come to where you drink. He’ll drive your car and take you home.
If you want to know more about drinking culture in Korea, read this article.
Valet Parking (발레 파킹) is a service where someone parks my car instead of me. Valet parking was originally only offered to VIPs of luxury hotels and department stores.
Parking in downtown Seoul is difficult. There is not a lot of parking, and parking has to be in tight spaces. So currently, the normal restaurants or cafes provide such valet parking service. You have an employee who only parks cars.
Now this service is offered not only in cities, but also outside them.
- Rerservists (예비군) & Civil Defence (민방위).
Korean men have a duty to the Armed Forces. It started in 1951 after the Korean War. You have to live in the military for a year and a half.
My dad said he was in the military for three years, so it was already getting shorter.
Even after discharge from the army, men must be available as reserve troops (예비군).
Men are trained once a year for eight years so they don’t forget how to shoot or defend themselves. After that, they were to undergo civil defense training until the age of 40.
In 1992 there was a protest against racism in LA like the protest for George Floyd in 2020. At the time, the protesters wanted to go to Beverly Hills, where rich white people live. On the way to Beverly Hills is Korean Town, so Korean restaurants and stores were robbed and burned. At that time, Korean reservists and civil defense forces from all parts of the U.S. gathered to defend themselves with weapons.
- Ajuma’s hair (아줌마 머리)
Have you ever heard Ajumma (아줌마)?
Ajumma is a middle-aged woman, so Ajumma is usually married and she also has children.
So you can call such a woman Ajumma, but it is better not to call her that because Ajumma also has that nuance.
Normally, Ajumma is lower than the middle class. She does everything for her children and her family, sometimes without considering other people.
Ajumma always has short hair and curly perm. You know Koreans have straight hair, but my mom had that hair style too and still has it.
Before Korea became a rich country, mothers worked hard for their children and family. The short curly hair is just convenient so they don’t waste a lot of time with their hair.
You can see in Korea that many older women and grannies have this hair.
If you called me Ajumma, I wouldn’t be happy!
First, I don’t have that hair and I won’t have it in the future. I want to be a stylish city woman, not Ajumma! Haha!
- Jeonse rental system (전세)
There are two different rental systems in Korea. One is Wolse (월세), the monthly rent as in Europe. Another is that the tenant gives the landlord a lot of money at once. The tenant usually lives in the apartment for two years and if he moves out after two years, he gets all the money back. The rental system is called Jeonse (전세) in Korean.
Then why was there such a rental system Jeonse?
When Korea was poor, it was difficult to borrow from the bank. The landlord gets a lot of money from the tenant and the tenant gets to live for free.
The landlord can do business with the money or save it at the bank. Until a few decades ago, you got a lot of interest on savings in banks, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time. So the landlords don’t want to offer jeonse anymore, but the tenants would rather have jeonse because they can get all the money back after they move out.
When Koreans find a job, they save money. When they get married, they get some money from their parents to rent an apartment as jeonse. Still, they don’t have enough money for Jeonse, then the rest of Jeonse’s money is borrowed from the bank. Loan interest is cheaper than monthly rent, so Koreans like Jeonse better.
However, the cost of renting in Seoul is too high!
My sister rented an apartment with 102㎡ as jeonse. It costs 457,000 euros for two years. Your family took out a loan, of course! Usually the price always goes up, so in two years she has to pay off the loan and then she takes out another loan. Seoul is particularly expensive, though, so my sister can use that money to buy an apartment outside of Seoul.
As the house price continues to rise, there is currently a combination of Wolse and Jeonse. If you don’t have enough money for jeonse, you can pay the rest of the jeonse monthly. The more money for Jeonse, the less money for Wolse.
In Korea, pyeong (평) rather than square meters is the unit used to find an apartment. A pyeong is about 3.3㎡.
- Dokseosil (독서실) & Koshiwon (고시원)
Koreans think it is very important to go to university. This also comes from the influence of Confucianism.
When Korea was poor, the old generation could not go to school, so their children want to go to university. However, it is not easy to go to a university.
When I was in high school, I studied at school from 7am to 9pm every day.
Even in my generation, my friends would go to the institute after school to get tutoring in English, math and other subjects.
Currently, almost all students go to the institute after school. If they don’t go to the Institute, they can’t have fellowship with friends.
Dokseosil (독서실) is a hall where students can study. There are desks, but all seats are divided with dividers. You pay monthly and get your own desk. You can study there even at night.
Part of the university library is also like a docseosil.
Goshi (고시) is the name of a national examination to become a diplomat or civil servant. There are many people who study for many years for Goshi because this test is very difficult.
They needed a place to study without having to meet family and friends and be undisturbed by others. So there’s goshiwon (고시원).
You use one room alone, but the kitchen and bathroom are shared. It sounds like Goshiwon is a shared apartment, but it’s not like a shared apartment right away because the room is tiny. There is a small bed, a small desk and a wardrobe in the room, but some rooms do not have a window.
With rising prices here live not only people preparing for the exam, but also ordinary people who do not have enough money. Students who come to Seoul also live here.
Goshiwon always offers rice and kimchi for free.
It’s a YouTube video I see a lot these days. A student lives in Goshiwon and he shows how he eats and lives there.
- Special food Seonjitguk (선짓국) and fruit Chamoe (참외) & Hallabong (한라봉).
Seonjitguk (선짓국) is my favorite food. Seonji (선지) is blood of animals and Guk (국) is a soup. Seonjitguk is made from cattle blood. First, the hot soup is boiled hot, and then the blood is added to the soup and cooked. The blood then becomes like pudding!
Seonjitguk is one of Haejangguk (해장국) that relieves hangover.
My mother sometimes cooked seonjitguk, but my sisters never ate it. In Korea, some people like it and some people don’t.
Want to try Seonjitguk?
Korean melon (참외) is small and yellow. She looks like a pumpkin.
Some people eat the melon with the seeds, but some without seeds.
My father often told me that Koreans didn’t have much to eat after the Korean War. When my dad was a kid, someone threw a yellow melon rind in the street and my dad ate it.
I have traveled a lot and have not seen this melon in other countries.
Hallabong (한라봉) is a specialty product of Jeju Island (제주), which is the largest island in Korea. Halla is the name of Mount Halla on Jeju Island, which is the highest mountain in South Korea.
Hallabong looks like an orange, but the dot at the top sticks out. It looks like a summit bong (봉 峯) in Korean. That’s why it’s called Hallabong.
In reality, Halla Mountain is a volcanic mountain, so there is a crater, not a peak.