From living here, some of these were immediate and others were observations that occurred over time. I have rounded up 6 things that have really taken me by surprise in Korea. I’m sure this might change over time but for the moment here is my list.
1. How big coffee is here
You can’t walk more than 1km without passing a coffee shop here. There are so many coffee chains here and independent coffee shops. I actually thought tea would be bigger here being in an Asian country, but coffee is more popular and easier to find here. The coffee drink of choice seems to be an iced americano. As an Australian, I’ve not really seen americanos on our menus but I think it would be a long black. And cold coffee?? What is that? Whilst I still very much like my coffees hot and with milk, I don’t mind a cold latte every now and then.
2. How little English there is
Ok ok, a bit of an English snob to even be thinking this but I thought that as there is a big influence from the US here, English would be more widespread. Plus, the booming international trade scene and Korean culture wave. Even in Seoul, I think I give it 50/50 when picking a place to eat whether they will have English on the menu or if you will be using your translator. At least the metro stations and signs have some English. Quite popular here is also using a touch screen to order food/drinks and sometimes there is also no English or you select English and most of it is still in Korean. Yes, I am the one holding up the line trying to translate the screen.
3. How expensive fruits are
While there is a variety of fruits available, they are so terribly expensive compared to what I was use to back home. Expect to pay 9,000 won for 3 peaches or more than 20 000 won for a watermelon. 15 000 won for a bunch of grapes and I’m sure I’ve not even seen the more expensive fruits. I think I had read before that this was due to production and land required to grow them although I’m not really sure on this.
4. How quiet buses and trains are
There is this unsaid rule to not make so much noise on public transport. You will be stared at or even told off if you are speaking too loud. This is obviously such a blessing because there are times back home when someone has decided that everyone else in the carriage should listen to their abysmal taste in music. There’s none of that here and definitely no-one chowing down a burger on the metro.
5. There are CCTV camera’s everywhere
This is the country where you can leave your bag and laptop at your seat and go to the bathroom and still come back to everything there. You can even have picnics and leave for a walk and come back with everything still there. There is so much trust in no-one taking your stuff because they know they can easily find the person stealing through all the CCTV camera’s around. There’s even camera’s where the apartment trash is. This high level of trust in the community does mean that they can have nice things. Nice metro stations, heated bus stop benches and kids freely walk themselves to and from school.
6. Fashion forward or fashion same
I thought that Seoul would be a melting pot of styles. Just as London is or even what I’ve heard of Tokyo. But everyone dresses within the same confines and in the same style. Don’t get me wrong, everyone dresses very well here and takes a lot of care of their appearance but I thought I would be seeing more different styles. I think this fits into the larger cultural norm of not standing out and fitting into society’s “standard”.
Are there any other things that you would add to this list?
12 thoughts on “6 Things In Korea That Surprised Me”
Very interesting post! I spent only 3 weeks on vacation in South Korea. This is what I wrote about nearly the same topic:
I translated your post- hahaha! Funny how we noticed quite similar aspects.
I’ve not been to Korea but my OH has and he says you’re spot on.
Glad to know others have observed the same!
Very interesting! From this list it seems like Korea and Japan are very similar for some aspects, like the fruits being so expensive, all the nice things that they can have because there is this sense of trust in the community, and even the possibility to order through a touch screen at the restaurant – obviously without English translations. Great for introverts but not the best for tourists ahah!
I also came to the same realisations in Tokyo when it comes to fashion: I was expecting some crazy and very diverse styles, but I found that while everyone dressed well, it was still pretty monotonous. Anyway, I’d love to visit Korea one day, and all your posts about it just fuel my wanderlust! Thanks for sharing!
Interesting! I haven’t been to Tokyo yet but I thought from what I saw in Kyoto, there were already alot more different styles compared to here. I hope you come to Korea one day!
Your post is always so on point, it’s refreshing. Im not sure if it is because of where you grew up or if we just similarly look at korea. But it’s nice to read about Korea through someone with a similar view to mine! Keep up the good work!
Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad I’m not the only one having these thoughts.
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Iced coffee I can understand and the quiet on public transport would be a bonus. The signs on the building pictured seem to speak so loudly that no words are needed! I didn’t know about CCTV everywhere but it sounds like a good thing if it stops theft.
I shudder when I think about how in other places, certain people think the rest of the carriage wants to hear their abysmal taste in music. I’ve left a whole picnic spread at the park to go for a walk with a friend and everything was fine when we got back!
How lovely that people are so honest and trusting. And sad that Australians find it incredible that there are places like that still left in the world.