From soju to noraebangs to K-Pop blaring out on the streets, Korea is a fascinating country that’s always bustling with activity. Thousands of tourists visit every single year and expats settling down in Korea are on the rise.
There are a lot of interesting customs, trends, products, and facilities that may seem so normal to Koreans but are fascinating and new to those from abroad. Thus, we present you with ‘the top 10 things you’ll only find in Korea’!
1. Coin Noraebangs
If you love belting out songs, you must visit a noraebang (‘norae’ meaning song and ‘bang’ meaning room) at least once. People go there to sing while drunk (and almost blast other people’s eardrums thinking they can reach that high note), after a break-up (queue a whole round of depressing love songs) or simply to practice their singing!
They’re all over the country on most street corners. Typical noraebangs usually accommodate over 4 people and cost at least 10,000 to 15,000 KRW per hour.
Coin noraebangs, however, are different in that you pay according to the number of songs you sing rather than on an hourly basis. The booths are also smaller, kind of resembling a telephone box.
There will be a microphone or two, remote control to select songs, and a coin slot to pay for the number of songs you want to sing. Prices normally start at 500 KRW for one or two songs).
Coin noraebangs are recommended for those of you who want to belt out some songs alone in a place other than your shower with a microphone that isn’t a hairbrush. These are absolutely ideal for that!
2. Dating Slang
If you’re looking to meet your potential future girl or boyfriend, not to worry as there are many ways that you can! Blind dating and ‘meetings’ (and no, we don’t mean the kind you have at the office on a Monday morning) are quite common here. Here are some of the terms explained.
‘So-Gae-Ting‘: A one-on-one blind date where two strangers are set up by a mutual friend. Sometimes the mutual friend will have shown the participants pictures of each other along with information about their school or job.
‘Meeting‘: Group hangouts where one mutual friend or even a few invite their friends to hang out together. They are usually very popular among university students as a way of meeting lots of new people. Since it is a large group, there is a lot less pressure. Drinking games are also played to make things more comfortable and fun.
*Never have any high hopes for these. I’ve been on five so far but haven’t been able to meet anyone even close to what I would consider ‘boyfriend material'(sighs). Just focus on having fun!
‘Hap-Seok‘: Hap-Seok usually happens when a boy or girl finds someone of interest in a bar (since alcohol can make someone more comfortable and confident). They will then go up to them and ask if they want to Hap-Seok (join seats). It’s essentially like a meeting but very spontaneous!
‘Mat-Seon‘ or ‘Seon‘: These are the most serious of all Korean dates, as they are a blind date arranged by parents or relatives with the potential of producing a marriage.
3. Couple Culture
I’m quite content with being single and enjoy the freedom, but sometimes I do get lonely and wish I had someone by my side- especially here. Why? Because couples are everywhere, and boy they sure like to make it clear to the whole world that they’re dating.
Korean couples will wear matching outfits, accessories, rings, shoes….even underwear! Pretty much anything that shows that they’re dating. Don’t get me wrong- I think it looks cute most of the time. But there are always those couples that go overboard or have matching things that just make you think ‘why.’ The worst was when I saw a couple with matching crocs. CROCS. I don’t care what anyone says. Crocs are hideous and need to be banned from this earth.
There’s also a bunch of holidays that are specifically for couples, some of which include:
White Day (March 14): Known as the ‘second Valentine’s day’, boys give gifts to the girls in return for the ones they received on Valentine’s Day. Yes, Valentine’s Day here is when the girls give gifts to the boys!
Rose/Yellow Day (May 14): Couples dress in yellow and exchange roses.
Kiss Day (June 14): Confess your feelings to your crush and a new relationship may blossom. Lipstick brands and breath mints will also have various promotions.
Even Christmas is more of a couple’s night than a time spent with the whole family. You’ll most likely find me drinking the night away with my girlfriends that night.
And if you want to document your whole relationship, install an app called ‘between’ which allows you to share photos, messages, and generally chronicle the whole course of your relationship.
4. Drink till you (almost) die
It should come as no surprise to some of you that South Korea boasts the top alcohol consumption level on the planet.
Soju. That green glass bottle filled with a devilish substance that’s caused some of my worst hangovers, cringe-worthy text messages, and other bad decisions are the main alcohol of choice in Korea. It’s under 2 dollars at convenience stores and comes in flavors such as grapefruit, peach, apple, and more! You can also mix it with everything from orange juice to energy drinks to beer.
Drinking is a way of bonding with your friends, co-workers or family. For this reason, ‘hweshiks (company dinners)’ are very common. Hierarchy is very prevalent in the workplace, and respecting higher-ups is a huge deal. Drinking gives you the chance to open up and strengthen your relationship with them in a casual environment.
You’ll find people drinking at parks or playgrounds since drinking in public is legal. Additionally, no one is fazed when they see someone passed out on the street or subway either since it’s such a common sight.
If you need some hangover relief, head to the convenience store where you’ll find the shelves lined with hangover relief drinks! There are also soups to get nutrients back into your alcohol-filled system. If you love to drink, Korea will be like heaven for you. Bottom’s up folks.
5. Same-Sex Touching
Normally in many other parts of the world, two people of the same sex holding hands or linking arms would make people assume they are a gay couple. In Korea however, while public displays of affection are generally frowned upon, people won’t blink an eye even if you sit on your friend’s lap or walk down the street holding their hand.
You’ll see lots of music videos or shows where celebrities of the same sex have their arms around each other cuddling or have their arms around their friend’s waist. It’s totally normal here and also probably the reason why so many international fans freak out and ‘ship’ members of their favorite idol group with each other.
6. “What’s your Korean age?”
In Korea, your age has nothing to do with your birthday. Instead, you calculate your age by the year you’re born, so it doesn’t matter whether your birthday has passed or not.
The easiest way to calculate it is to subtract the current year from the year you were born and add one. So if you were born in 1992, then your age is 2016 – 1992 + 1 = 25. The reason why you add one is because you’re already considered to be a year old once you’re born.
This system is fine when you’re young, but gets more and more depressing as you age. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of those in their late twenties approaching thirty crying as they say “I’m technically still in my twenties!”
7. Offensive Comments
“Why do you have so many pimples on your face?””You’ve gained so much weight!” These are some common comments you may hear from people, whether it be friends, relatives or co-workers.
Of course, there are people who say these things on purpose to offend you, but a lot of times in Korea, they’re simply said out of concern or even love (though I beg to differ). The best thing to do is just laugh it off and not let it get to you.
My technique now is to just do the same thing back. Two can play the game. When one of my aunts recently told me I was getting fat and should get some exercise, I feigned concern and told her she had gotten more wrinkles and should probably get some botox. Needless to say, she shut up right away.
*Tread gently if the opposition is superior at work or someone you don’t want to have a rocky relationship with. I’m not responsible for any fights that occur!
8. Korean Beauty Products
It’s no secret that Korea is the pioneer in the world of skincare and beauty. Even Western brands are beginning to release products that have formulations and finishes similar to Korean products.
BB creams, lip tints, cushion foundations…. it all started in Korea. Recently, however, the products have become more, erm, interesting. But hey, no matter how strange and unusual they may be, the important thing is that they work!
I’ve since discovered many more bizarre products. One of them includes this ‘Starfish All-in-One Cream’ with 70% starfish extract that promises to improve skin elasticity, moisturize, prevent wrinkles, and whiten the skin. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had great regenerating results as starfish can regrow lost arms and even entire new limbs!
The site even has the placenta, bee and snake venom, and snail mucus cream. Not the usual products you would find on a skincare website. But hey, if it makes me look younger and gives me amazing skin, I’ll gladly try it.
I’d probably eat these since I love anything with salmon also found this cream that literally looks like the salmon eggs you find in sushi restaurants. Apparently, the enzymes help to regulate moisture and enhance your skin’s color, texture, and overall condition. The site recommends using 2 to 3 eggs at a time.
Fortune-telling stalls and cafes can be seen all over Korea. There are tents lining the streets and portable vans with little tables and chairs inside.
Find out what life has in store for you through a variety of different methods. For example, ‘Kwan-sang’ is where the psychic analyzes little details about your face such as the shape of your nose or how far apart your eyes are to determine your personality. Then they will use this information to figure out the rest of your life.
‘Saju’ is another popular form of fortune-telling. It means the four pillars of destiny, as the readings are based on the day, month, year, and time of your birth. The fortune-teller will consult a book of celestial significance to tell you about your character and how it can affect your future.
Many mothers also consult fortune-tellers about their children before important events. These include things like the college entrance exam to find out whether or not their child can get into a top university or job interviews at a conglomerate company to predict the chances of getting hired.
Some do go a little too overboard and literally rely solely on these fortune-tellers to predict their whole life for them.
10. Love Motels
Sound seedy and sketchy? As the name suggests, love motels can be rented hourly and are for couples who want somewhere private to..erm…’do the deed.’ Since most youths live with their parents even in their twenties or thirties, they’re the ideal place to go for some uninterrupted time together.
However, they’re not just for couples anymore. A lot of tourists on a budget or business people who need a place to crash for the night use them as they’re actually really nice and clean!
Most will have a queen-sized bed, big screen tv, bathroom, and a mini-fridge. Some even have computers, jacuzzis, karaoke machines, and video games! Many will even be themed. Take the Spain room for example, which is decked out with Spanish football memorabilia such as Barcelona football uniforms and boots.
The best part is that if you look around almost every bus terminal or train station you will find some, so you have lots of options!
*Since it is a ‘love motel’, the bathroom may just be separated by a curtain or glass door that’s practically transparent (shown above) so take note if you’re going with someone you’re not too comfortable with (ie. that co-worker you’re not too close with yet).
Which ones do you agree with? Do you have any more to add to the list? Let us know!
If you want to check out more fun posts like this one as well as more fun things to do in Korea, don’t forget to check out Trazy.com, Korea’s #1 Travel Shop!
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“No crocs under any circumstances” By Yusuf C
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