Living in another country will inevitably require you to do things in a different way. So it’s best to encounter something new with little/no expectation and a lot of acceptance (i.e. try and do as the locals do). This is far from a comprehensive list, just some random things I’ve found to be new or different in the months I’ve lived and worked here.
1. Calling Waiters Over in a Restaurant
Initially awkward for me to get used to (and I’m still getting used to it), but it’s actually really nice to not have your waiter asking you “how’s your meal?” multiple times while you’re oh-so-elegantly chomping on a faceful of food. When you’re ready to order, or need anything additional, you simply call the waiter over with a jeogiyo (저기요 – excuse me) or press a button. Also- you usually pay up front at the cashier at the end of your meal, oh and no tipping (awesome for multiple reasons).
2. Keeping Warm with Heated Floors
In the freezing winter, this is something I love. Most residences have heated flooring to keep your feet nice and toasty during those frigid days and nights. Also great as we moved into our apartment in the cold, and slept on the floor. The controls have options to turn on the floor and water separately or together. The other side of this is having to wait until the water heats up to take a shower, but it really doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time.
3. Overall Safety of Belongings and Self
Nowhere else in the world have I seen someone save their table in a cafe by placing their smartphone on it, and leaving it there to go order. In the US, that phone would be gone pretty quick. Now, I wouldn’t drunkenly wave my passport around in a seedy dark alleyway or anything, but overall South Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the modern world and it genuinely feels safer.
4. Getting Used to Less Personal Space
I had this conversation recently how America has the biggest “personal bubble”, where we expect the most space in public places. In Korea that “bubble” is much smaller. People stand closer in line at the coffee shop, in the subway, what have you. The difference is probably partly due to the higher population density here.
5. The Abundance of Spicy Food
Feeling adventurous and decide to choose a food item from the menu you don’t know what it is? 7 times out of 10 it will be spicy, be warned. My capacity for spicy food was much lower before I started saying “oh let’s try this” and eating super level 20 spicy -steam coming out of my ears- food.
6. Working Regardless of Being Sick
This isn’t a hard and fast rule. You can take a sick day if you really need, you’ll just be cutting into your vacation time (at least at my place of work). There are no separate sick days. The overall result is showing up for every day of work, whereas in the US I would utilize those sick days for a similar level of sickness. I work regardless of my ability to breathe.
7. Glorious, Glorious Food Delivery
Once we figured out what our address was and how to input it into apps like Yogiyo (there’s a whole old/new address system we had to navigate) we unlocked the achievement of food delivery. There are countless motorbikes zooming around the streets (and sidewalks!) that are bringing food to homes and businesses, and it’s surprisingly cheap. This also makes it easy for the cooking challenged like me!
8. Expectations of Dress
Overall, there are conservative expectations of dress in South Korea – at least on top (covering shoulders and cleavage), but micro mini skirts are not taboo and are seen in abundance. I read about this before coming to South Korea, and it has proven more or less true. You will get some stares if you go out wearing something that reveals cleavage or shoulders – though honestly this only matters if you care about being stared at. Also, somewhat related to clothes…? On the weekends, the streets are filled with couples wearing matching outfits. Many decked out from head to toe – hat down to shoes (I’ve even seen matching underwear sets in the underground market haha).
9. No Oven in an Apartment
The typical apartment/villa/office tel has a stovetop with a gas line you manually switch on and off, and underneath that..a washing machine where you might have expected an oven to be. Now, as a person who is lacking in the being-able-to-cook category, most of my homemade meals previously have involved baking (baked chicken, baked potato, you get the idea), so not having an oven is making me think I should learn some culinary skills (maybe). But having an at-home washing machine sure beats the trip to the laundromat.
10. Ease of Getting Around
The public transportation here is amazing – especially for someone moving here from California where you must have a car or you go nowhere. The subway, buses, and taxis can get you anywhere you need, and in Seoul, all you need is a T-money card that can be easily reloaded at a convenience store or subway/train station.
To gain access to online banking – download endless protective software to your computer.
12. Google Maps No More
I didn’t know this before moving here, but Google’s dominance in mapping the world falls a little short in South Korea, mostly due to the popularity of the search engine Naver. User content is not added as often to Google as it is in most other countries, so many businesses don’t appear on google maps, and the walking directions can get a little silly. It’s better when it comes to popular tourist spots, though, so it’s not completely useless. When needing directions I usually use a combination Naver maps in combination with Google, a Seoul subway app, and dropped pins in Kakao from friends.
13. No Shoes Indoors
This is an obvious one, really – but as a typical white, middle-class American from good ol’ Virginia Beach, Virginia – I’ve spent 27 years wearing my shoes in the house. In Korea, the entrance to a residence usually has a small tiled area to leave your shoes, and thus you don’t trek the dirt and grime of the outside into your home. Much better.
14. Texting Through Messaging Apps
Most communication goes through one of the popular messaging apps in lieu of using the built in SMS texting in your phone. The two biggest ones in South Korea are KakaoTalk and Line, which both have a cast of cute characters featured in the app (there are even whole stores dedicated to these characters).
On the whole, it has been fun being here in South Korea, and learning the ins and outs of being a resident in another country and culture.