Photo: Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

10 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to South Korea

South Korea
by Dannie Matevia Mar 16, 2015

1. Wasting space at a table.

When eating in Korea, the table is covered with food. Main dishes, side dishes, kimchi and, of course, soju.

2. Refusing a drink for any reason.

In Korea, it is accepted and expected that you enjoy spirited libations, heavily, with co-workers. The drink of choice, of course, being soju. There is no negative association with getting absolutely smashed with your coworkers and it is common occurrences at hweshiks (company dinners), which happen frequently. There IS, however, a negative association with refusing to drink with your co-workers, as it makes you seem unfriendly and unwilling to enjoy the culture.

3. Staying awake all day at work.

Due to the nature of hweshiks, and also because it is a sign that you are working hard, napping at your desk at work is accepted. No one cares. It is glorious.

4. Playing hooky.

There is no such thing as a sick day unless you truly, physically cannot make it to work. Hungover? Actually really sick? Just feel like playing hooky? Nope. You go into work. You might not have to actually work but you do have to show up.

5. Modifying dishes in any way.

Since I previously worked in a restaurant, I was one of those “Cuban pork setup, sub spicy chicken, can I change the fries to a house salad with no bacon” kind of customers. But in Korea, you get a blank stare if you try to modify a dish even in the slightest. You eat it how it comes. The end.

6. Waiting for a server to come to you.

In Korea, you don’t wait patiently for servers to come to you. You simply yell across the restaurant at them or press a button conveniently located right on your table to ring a bell and get their attention. Once you can get over the thought that yelling “Come here!” to a server is rude, it’s fine and very efficient.

7. Showing skin.

Showing shoulders in Korea is considered risqué — and showing cleavage is absolutely unheard of. Anything that reveals more than a t-shirt in terms of neckline will prompt extremely unwanted attention. No more V-necks for this girl! And even in the heat of summer, tank tops are a no-no. Conversely, short shorts and skirts are A-OK. Go figure.

8. Entertaining at your home/Being entertained at friend’s homes.

Space is limited in Korea and as such apartments and houses are small. It is not common to invite someone to your house for dinner or to hang. A plethora of coffee shops, karaoke rooms, DVD rooms, computer rooms (for playing computer games) and bars exist for just this purpose.

9. Trying not to shove, nudge, or bump into other people.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes in the densely populated city of Seoul, specifically in the subway system, to realize that personal space no longer exists. If someone is in your way, you do not ask them to move, aplogize, or even walk around them. You can walk straight into them or push them right out of your way and no one bats an eye.

10. Waiting your turn to get off of a bus, plane, or train.

In America, for the most part, people wait until the people in front of them stand up before the exit a mode of transportation. In Korea, that is not a thing. When it is time to exit, you just stand up and start walking, pushing, and moving regardless of who is in front of you.

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