If you just found out you are moving to South Korea, you’ve probably been busy scouring the Internet for information. If you’re like me, you went straight to Google and typed in things like “What is it like to live in South Korea?” or “What is kimchi anyway?” Maybe you typed in “Is the winter that cold and the summer really that hot?” Let me stop you right there and say yes, I’ve lived through one summer and It. Is. Extremely. Hot.
The good news is that there are endless articles and blogs (like this one!) out there that will help manage your expectations and prepare you for your move. I spent countless hours on my quest for information and felt relatively prepared for my move. That feeling stayed with me right up to the point it was time to get off the plane and I hit the ladies room! Once I really got into living everyday life here, I encountered so many new and RANDOM things that I had never read about on the Internet…and honestly, why would I? For the first several months, I felt a little ridiculous every time I stepped out of my apartment and attempted something new. Let’s just say I made a lot of rookie mistakes. But hey, that’s all part of the fun!
In an effort to save face for all you other Internet researches out there, I’ve created a list of completely random things that you will undoubtedly come across during your adventures here in South Korea. Now, I know you will read some of the items on this list and think, “uh duh, that one is completely obvious!” Okay, let me explain myself. When you are new here and are ready to venture out, the experience can quickly turn into sensory overload. Your brain will be working overtime to take in ALL the sights and sounds of this foreign environment. If you are going to be living in the city, let me tell you…it is busy, busy, busy! In this moment, you will understandably overlook the completely obvious…hence my list!
1. Check Please.
Your first eating experience in South Korea will most likely be at a restaurant. Now if you went straight for the fast food, proceed as normal. If you are eating at a sit down restaurant with a wait staff, checks are not paid at the table but at a cash register by the door. This took us a couple days to catch on to but we get leniency for jet lag on this one. And don’t forget….no tipping at restaurants in Korea – how awesome is that?!
2. Sliding Doors.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “I got this one!” But hear me out. We all know about sliding doors, but you’re probably thinking about the automatic ones they have in the United States. In South Korea you need to look for the button on the left or right hand side of the doors so you can push it to OPEN said doors. I’ve looked like a complete fool standing and waiting in front of sliding doors on more than one occasion. I will go ahead and throw escalators into this category too. SOME escalators do not move until you physically stand in front of it….I know, duh!
3. Square to Spare?
I could probably spend a few pages writing about the public restrooms here in South Korea but I will keep it short and sweet. The restroom idiosyncrasies I’m pointing out are not consistent across the board, but you will undoubtedly come across them at some point. First, and perhaps most important, be sure to check for the location of the toilet paper upon entering the restroom because SOMETIMES it will be located OUTSIDE of the stall. By the time you realize this, it is usually too late! It’s okay, we’ve all been there. If you survive the toilet paper debacle and approach the sink, you may see a contraption that looks like a pole with soap sticking out of the bottom of it. And yes, it is indeed soap-on-a-pole. I’ve also encountered soap-on-a-magnet (so it can stick to a magnet holder on the wall). You will also see an everyday bar of soap sitting in a plain ole’ soap dish. The common theme here is public soap people. You’re either for it or against it but either way, it takes you off guard the first time you see it in a VERY public setting. The term “public bar of soap” seems a little counter-intuitive to be, but when in Rome…. As a back up, I like to carry a little hand sanitizer in my purse….just sayin’.
4. What’s Your Number?
The first time I took the kids out by myself in Seoul, I felt so accomplished! As I waited in line at the ticket counter at the aquarium, I thought “no big deal here.” After waiting in what I thought was the ticket line, I approached the counter to finally buy my tickets only for the women behind the counter to point out the ticket machine. Make sure before you hop in a line to look around for the ticket machine and pull a number!
5. Wait for the green man!
This tip is really more of a public service announcement. Seoul is full of pedestrians…and if you are moving here, you’ll be one of them. There will come a time when you are waiting at a crosswalk for the green man to tell you it’s safe to cross. If you’re like me, you’ll look both ways and think, “no cars coming, I got this…” but DON’T be tempted! As soon as you step off the curb, a speeding car and/or motorcycle will literally come out of nowhere. Ask me how I know this! Stay safe and wait for the green walking man.
6. License and Registration.
If you happen to build up the courage to obtain a license and drive (good for you and God Speed!), this one is for you. There may come a time when you look in your rearview and notice flashing police lights. Here in Korea, flashing police lights do not mean pull over, you’re in trouble…they simply mean “hey, I’m a police car driving around with my lights on” or something like that.
7. What street do you live on?
Gotcha – that’s a trick question! There are NO street names in South Korea. To navigate your way around, you need to know the City (known as the “si”), the district (known as the “gu”), the neighborhood (known as the “dong”), and the number (or range of numbers). There are other abbreviations, but these are the main ones and are needed for GPS navigation. If you are walking, the directions will mostly likely be based on landmarks. For example, “take a left at the alley just past the McDonalds and look for a large blue sign, it will be three shops down from that!” Most of the time, this actually works
In an effort to save you from RANDOM information overload, I will bring my list to a close and leave you with this….living in Korea is a full-on adventure like no other! Remember to explore and take baby steps everyday and before you know it, you will forget that these type of things seemed “odd and out of place” when you first got here!
Shannon originally wrote this piece for Koreaye
, another FANTASTIC source for those of you living he re in Seoul!