What Should I Avoid in Korea?
Traveling to another country with a completely different culture is pretty daunting. While you’re excited to explore new places and possibly meet new people, there are some of the things that you should know first before your anticipated trip.
Planning to visit South Korea? If so, remember that some habits are perfectly fine in your hometown but are no-nos in South Korea.
So slow down for a bit and familiarize yourself with things that you should avoid, from the don’ts in their culture to tourist traps, in South Korea:
1. Stay in Seoul for the Duration of Your Trip
We get it, Seoul is an absolute beauty to behold. It’s an epitome of life and adventure.
Plus, it’s teched-up so much that you don’t even have to worry about getting yourself your own sim card for data or scourging cafes for free WiFi.
This city is on the top of everyone’s itinerary. But, there’s so much more to see in South Korea than Seoul.
It’s a huge waste if you’ll just stay in Seoul for the duration of your trip so make sure that you at least head outside to the provinces once.
You’ll be greeted with amazing sceneries that you’ll miss if you just stayed in the city.
Definitely plan a trip to Gyeonggi Province, specifically Suwon or if you’re up for it, go all the way to Busan.
2. Be a Picky Eater
South Korean cuisine is one of the top best cuisines in the world. It’s unlike any other Asian cuisine and not to mention, absolutely delicious.
Being a picky eater during your trip to South Korea is a huge no-no if you want to experience the country to its fullest.
So go out of your comfort zone and try out some of their local food. Don’t miss out on their kimchi, hotteok, and even those tasty chicken feet.
3. Not Knowing (or Following) Korean Etiquette
This is going to be a long one. South Korean, like most Asians, culturally adhere to their tradition and etiquette.
As a foreigner, you’re not exempted from that rule. In fact, South Korea is one of the least culturally diverse countries in the world which is why you’ll definitely stick out to them.
While you’re highly likely to go by unnoticed since South Korea is has been gaining traction in world tourism, Koreans are definitely not shy to point out of you’re doing something rude.
So what are your basic Korean etiquettes? Here are some of them:
- Knowing one’s age is important for Koreans. It’s their way of determining how to talk and act around you so don’t be offended if they’ll ask how old you are. Also, they have this thing called the Korean Age. If you’re in Korea, you’re automatically a year older than you are because everyone is born one year old.
- When it comes to talking with someone who’s elderly or has seniority over you, you should do so with high respect. While you’re not expected to learn the ins and outs of the Korean language with regards to this, you should at least show your respect through your gestures and tone.
- It’s important to keep your hands to yourself. While you might have a few elbows thrown in your direction especially in Seoul, Koreans don’t like it when they’re consciously touched by a stranger. That means to hugs or even a shoulder pat when you first meet someone. It’s better to keep it through waving or handshakes.
- Speaking of handshakes, use both of your hands and slightly bow your head. While Westerners might appreciate a one-handed, firm handshake, Koreans use both of their hands as a sign of respect.
- If you’ve been to other Asian countries at least once (especially to Japan), then you know how serious they take their chopsticks etiquette. The general rule is to not play with them. Use it as a utensil and just as a utensil.
- Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking out of your bowl. That’s considered rude and bad luck because it resembles the incense being lit at funerals.
- If you’re dining with an elderly or someone higher than you (especially if they’re Korean), you have to wait for them to pick up their chopsticks and start eating before you start yours.
- When it comes to pouring drinks (alcoholic or not), it’s considered impolite to pour your own. Instead, let them pour your glass and return the favor.
4. Wearing Footwear That’s Way Too Hard to Remove
Whenever you’re visiting an Asian country, it’s best to check their culture when it comes to entering the establishment with or without shoes. Like Japan, South Korea practice taking off their shoes when going indoors.
If a restaurant you’re going into seats their customers on the floor, then automatically, you have to remove your shoes.
Establishments would usually have indoor slippers if you’re worried about walking barefoot.
So make sure that your footwear won’t be a hassle to remove and wear. If you’re wearing socks, maybe double-check if there are holes!
5. Skipping to Learn a Few Korean Phrases
A lot of English-speaking foreigners assume that they could just use English whenever they travel to other countries. However, like other culturally-centered countries in Asia (like Japan), South Korea won’t adjust to you.
South Koreans learn their basic English at school and chances are, they will understand but that’s not a guarantee.
English isn’t really a major language in South Korea so make sure that you at least learn a few phrases that you might find useful for your trip.
Don’t worry though, you don’t need to know every single thing and speak in perfect Korean. Konglish (Korean + English) is commonly used by locals so you can use that to your advantage.
Integrate a bit of Korean to your speaking and if they see you trying to communicate to them in their language, they’ll respond more positively to you.
6. Sticking to the Touristy Destinations
This practice is nice to turn into a habit when you’re traveling to other countries. Especially in South Korea, you have to go out of the touristy destinations so you can get the best in the country. While your typical Jeju Island or Lotte World are places that are worth visiting, you have to spend some time exploring other places as well.
Not only you’ll skip the tourist crowds, but you’ll also save a good portion of your budget. Amenities and basic needs in touristy areas tend to be much more expensive compared to other locations.
For example, is your accommodation that may cost twice as much compared to the same level of hotel or Airbnb in another area.
Instead, why not challenge yourself to live like a local? South Koreans know their country better than tourists so try to look for spots where locals would go.
Try out their noreabang (karaoke rooms), the local KBBQ joint, and so much more.
7. Not Researching For Common Tourist Traps
Every country has its own version of tourist traps and scams. It doesn’t matter how amazing their country is or how friendly the locals are, there will always be someone out there trying to earn a few bucks from tourists.
While South Korea is relatively a safe place for tourists and most trips and vacation to this country are hassle-free, you still have to watch out for scams.
Here are some of the most common scams:
Most taxis in South Korea are honest although there are still rogue ones. Always check if your taxi meter is set to zero when you first enter the taxi. Then tell your taxi driver to go so they could start the meter.
One thing that you should also avoid is Black Taxis. Which they are legitimate and not a scam, they charge more for “premium” services. Most tourists when they first arrive in South Korea wouldn’t know about this so it’s better to stick to the regular ones.
South Korea is a heaven for shopaholics, but you should exercise caution when you’re looking for legitimate luxury goods and products. Also, be critical of your tour itinerary if ever.
If you see ginseng, amethyst, or seaweed shopping tour included, you’ll likely end up trapped in a venue where you’re coaxed into buying the products. While they might be legitimate, they’ll be ridiculously overpriced.
This is a scheme common around temples in Asia. You should always remember that real monks don’t go around asking for donations in exchange for blessings or lucky charms and amulets.
Real monks won’t usually approach a tourist as well without being prompted. So the best thing you should do is to just ignore them and continue to be on your way.
Cult Ceremony Scam
If someone approaches you and invites you to a Korean ceremonial event, decline immediately. Some locals believe that these scammers are from a cult or practicing pseudo-religion.
If you want to learn all about Korean culture and traditional ceremonies, it’s much better to engage with a reputable tour operator or time your visit with national holidays and ceremony so you can witness it firsthand.