Monday, December 3, 2012

Korean Taboos and Things That Have Surprised Me

When I decided to move to South Korea, I was well aware that things would be very different. The people here have a different set of customs, way of living, and taboos. I am definitely not yet aware of all the taboos, but it seems like because I am obviously a Westerner it is not really that much of a problem if I violate a taboo, they just peg it on my ignorance. And I'm okay with that, I would rather not get into trouble for doing something I didn't even know was wrong!

Taboo #1: Never, ever write a person's name in red. Especially a child's, they are more sensitive about it. It means they will die. I've heard that some kids have cried when a teacher accidentally wrote their name in red on the board for everyone to see!

Taboo #2: Never call someone crazy. Or foolish. Or even silly. There is such a huge stigma against mental illness here that it is like calling someone retarded or mentally deficient.

Surprise #1: Wet rooms. These are definitely not as sexy as you might think! Instead of a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and separate shower, the bathrooms here have a toilet and sink that has a hose attached to the spout. The hose is about two meters long, and is attached to a shower head that fastens to a bracket on the wall. So you shower literally in the middle of the room, with a drain in the middle of the floor. So far, I hate wet rooms. The entire bathroom floor is wet for the next few hours so every time walk in to brush your teeth or comb your hair or anything, your feet are soaked. Water gets everywhere, so I've been obsessively cleaning the one mirror in my apartment because it's constantly spotted. And if you forgot to go to the bathroom before you showered, you're going to have a wet bottom if it's one of the smaller ones rooms.

Not the one in my apartment,
but a pretty standard size wet room.
Surprise #2: Don't drink the tap water, no matter what travel website told you that it's safe. I didn't realize this, and when I admitted to friends and some locals that I drank the water, they were all horrified. Especially the person who lived here. No one could really tell me why the water is unsafe, but the rumor is that it's due to old pipes that contaminate the water that comes from a very clean source. I had no after effects, but this could be because at the time I was staying in Dongtan, where everything is new because the city didn't even exist five years ago!

Surprise #3: Grocery stores sound like game shows and smell like dead fish. When you walk in, sometimes there is a person with a microphone to greet you, and there is always someone in the meat department talking on the microphone nonstop. Not speaking Korean, I have no idea what this person is talking about, but I feel like I'm about to try and get through an obstacle course. And it smells like dead fish because the meat/fish/dead animal department takes up a good 1/3 of the store.

Surprise #4: HEATED FLOORS!! Best invention ever. They don't seem to have radiators or those sorts of traditional heating appliances, they have heated floors. Which are glorious to wake up to and walk on, and they keep your apartment warm for ages. It's also probably because of heated floors that traditional Korean beds are usually mats that are unrolled onto the floor. It's nice and toasty at night, and it gives you more space during the day when you roll it up and put it away.

Surprise #5: Brooms are short. Like two feet long. I have not seen a full-length one yet! I understand that Korean people are typically shorter, but it just seems silly to use a broom that is only half your height!

That's about all that I can think of right now, I hope you enjoyed!


  1. Definitely an interesting read. Shall I send you a nice full-length broom for Christmas?
    Jes and Trevor :)

  2. Haha, I think that would be incredibly expensive to ship! I think I'll just duct tape a stick onto the mini-broom, or least that's what I've been picturing in my head!