So I have been in Korea a total of 7 weeks. I know CRAZYYY!
I have still learned very little of the language. Though I have found that I am understanding more each day. Except many moments of me understanding things makes me question if I am actually understanding more of if I am just getting use to the body language of Koreans. Either way I am adjusting…quickly. Maybe too quickly.
I am still in the stage where I understand cultural things, I do them, and then I realized I did them. Because of this I began to make note (for about the past two weeks or so) of the things I now do out of habit. Things that I will continue to do here because it is normal but when I visit the states at Christmas I will do and most likely weird everyone out.
Here is that list (no particular order):
1. Taking off shoes before entering a home. Seeing what is on the streets/sidwalks of Korea I quickly adjusted to this habit.
2. Bowing to strangers as a sign of respect. So this is not as big in Korea as in Japan. However, because I do not know the language I have found that when I bow to older Koreans they smile a big smile and say “hi”. It has a positive outcome therefore like Pavlov’s dogs to bells I do this often.
3. Serving everyone at the table before myself. So in Korea many of the dishes are served in a family size and we are given little plates to scoop our share onto. They do not set the table in most places they just bring a stack of plats and silverware to with the food. You then pass the items around the table. Same goes with water (when water is provided at the table).
4. Answering the question “How old are you?” with the year I was born. Koreans have a different outlook on when a baby starts to grow older. Therefore you answer that question by saying what year you were born. In Korea westerners either gain one year (like me) or two depending on what month you where born in.
5. Asking very blunt straight forward questions (or statements) like “What year are you?” (AKA: “How old are you?”) or “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” As well as answering these questions. Age is important in Korea because of their honorific language patterns. If someone is older than you you should respect them by speaking to them in the “honor” form of the language. (it takes “Sir” and “Ma’am” to a whole nother level). The relationship question is just out of curiosity. It shows you that they care about you enough to know about your personal life.The bluntness makes complements from Koreans even better because they are going to say anything they want to. Some foreigners get bent out of shape because a Korean called them fat or too big. I have not experienced this yet but I can see it happening. Not maliciously like it would be in the States but simply because it is a fact. Westerners are bigger than Koreans.
6. Being aware when writing with a red pen. In Korea if you write a name in red ink it means you want them to die or be cursed. Therefore I have become very much aware of what I write when I am writing with a red pen.
7. When handing someone something showing both hands. Usually one hand is holding the item and the other hand is resting or slightly holding the wrist of the other. It is a symbol or gesture that shows that you are not hiding anything from them. You should do this especially when handing over money. Though my student do this to me when handing in assignments, we do this when pouring each other water at dinner. So you can do this gesture pretty much all the time everywhere.
8. Not tipping for food. In the states I was a big supporter of tipping people. In Korea you do not tip. I well try my hardest not to do this in the States but I know I will have moments of forgetting the tipping custom.
9. Korea is a leading country in plastic surgery. Therefore they are pretty vain. There are mirrors everywhere. It is culturally acceptable to pull out a hand mirror wherever you are and begin primping. I regret telling my Western friends and family I now most definitely primp in public…I do not usually need to take out a personal mirror but I do use those public ones around me. (when you walk your hair gets messy…mirrors are nice)
10. Korea has a lot of people in a tiny space. Therefore you end up bumping into people. However in Korea you rarely get an apology. You hit shoulders with a stranger in the states and you quickly say “sorry.” In Korea you don’t even look back. However I have noticed that the older generation is a little more nicer about this than my generation or younger.
11. Lines in Korea are more like huddles of people. Though they do respect the order in which people came. They just do not like standing in lines. Also pushing sometimes happens when necessity outweighs politeness. Also in most public locations (banks, DMVs, Immigration offices, ect) there are ticket numbers. When you walk in you take a ticket with a number on it and wait till your number is called….no lines.
12. Safety. Korea is very safe for foreigners. Like all places there are stupid situations you could get yourself in. Those can happen in Korea. However overall there is a huge sense of safety. Especially where I live.
13. Finally the “foreigner card” mentality. Now I dont use this power for bad like some foreigners I have heard about. Though it is really great to be seen as a foreigner and get a seat on the bus, or have cars stop at a crazy intersection just for me to cross, or getting discounts or free stuff. Those are always nice. Also what is nice is knowing that if you do something wrong you can always act like a lost foreigner and usually they will forgive you at least once.
*I tried to add photos but wordpress was not working correctly. Thanks for reading!