Q: What are some common everyday differences between American life and Korean life?
Before coming here, I did a lot of research on Korean culture and common behaviors in order to easily adjust to my life here. However, online research can never substitute for personal experience, so I’ve decided to compile a small list of everyday things that has caught me off guard while living here.
- “Bless you”: I thought that maybe Koreans had their own phrase to say after someone sneezed, but it looks like this particular phrase is more common on the western hemisphere. Usually when a person sneezes or coughs, everyone just pretends not to hear it. There’s no reason behind it, it’s just more common to not say anything at all. So don’t expect to be “blessed” if you’re ever having a sneezing fest here.
- You know that “come hither” motion we do with our hands? When our hands are upwards, our palm facing us as we motion for someone to come over? In Korea, this motion is considered to be a rude gesture. Koreans usually call people over with their hands facing down and their palms face them. (So basically the opposite of what we normally do.) However, this hand motion is okay with kids and maybe your friends, but it is extremely rude to do around older people. You should never use hand motions around an elder, but if you are in a group or far away, maybe it’s okay to do BIG, WIDE, SWOOPING motions to get their attention. Ah, but you know that solo finger motion we sometimes do? That’s extremely rude here and you should probably refrain from doing it. Maybe you can with a kid to discipline them, or if you want to seduce someone, but probably not for any other reason.
- “Please”: The direct translation of “please” in Korean is “제발”. This word isn’t normally used often because it gives off a the feeling of begging. I would say that it’s similar to “pretty please” for us. Instead, Koreans usually say “주세요” at the end of their sentence to be polite. “주세요” literally means “give me”, but when used in a sentence it’s usually translated as “please” (or maybe it’s “give me, please”?). So, a Korean might forget to add this little magic word when they speak to you in English (especially when they are using short commands like, “go”, “stop”, or “sit”) but don’t worry, they aren’t trying to be rude, it’s just not as common to use that word in their language.
- Opening doors for other people isn’t a common habit in Korea. In America, if we are leaving a building and someone is behind us, we will open the door for them, and that person will hold it open for the person behind them, but this habit isn’t a common thing here. So, just walk with one hand in front of you every time you are walking towards a door. 🙃😅
- Pedestrians aren’t the priority: I used to wonder why in most Korean dramas, the protagonists would die from some sort of car-related calamity, but after living here, I think I understand. Honestly, I don’t think pedestrians have the right of way here. I think legally pedestrians have the right of way, but by the way people drive here, it seems like road rules favor the drivers and not the pedestrian. Like for example, a couple months back when I first arrived, I was walking on the sidewalk to the bus stop, when a delivery guy on his motorcycle zoom past me on the sidewalk. Because traffic was so congested, dude decided to take the scenic route with the pedestrians and beat traffic. The issue was that I had my headphones, in so I didn’t hear him coming until he zoomed past me. He could’ve killed me! I was lowkey traumatized. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. 😂😅 Anyways, always keep your eyes peeled because you’re the only one who’s got your back out there. (Don’t get me wrong, they won’t run you over intentionally…. I don’t think….but it’s still really nerve wracking to see them coming towards you at a fast speed as you are crossing the road.) I also think because of this mutual knowledge, jaywalking is far less common here than it is in America.
- Knocking in public restrooms: The polite etiquette to know if the stall that you want to go to the restroom in is occupied is to knock. (I mean, that is if it isn’t already obvious). Usually, in America, when someone knocks on our stall and we are inside we respond by saying, “Occupied”, or “someone is in here”. However, in Korea, if someone knocks on your stall and you’re inside, the customary thing to do is to knock back. They don’t say anything, they just return a knock for a knock. Oh! While we are on the topic of public restrooms, I’ve noticed that here that in large public areas, the toilet paper dispenser is located outside of the bathroom stall and not inside. If you forget to grab some toilet paper before rushing into the stall, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable position.
Well, that’s all there is for today. These were a few things that I noticed after living here for a couple of months. Except for the pedestrian thing, I noticed that a few weeks after staying here.
You may have to come and experience life here yourself in order for you to really understand what I mean, but while you are in America, I hope this post lets you see and understand Korea a little bit more.
Until next time,
See ya around, friend ~~