If you’re a long-term resident in Korea like I am, no matter how much you integrate, there might be some things in Korea that will always surprise you. How long have you lived in Korea? Even though I’ve been residing on the peninsula for nearly a decade now, there are definitely some things that I feel like I might never get used to! Read below to find out what they are:
If you come from a country like I do (South Africa), there is a big difference in how quickly the average delivery is completed compared to Korea. There are many different reasons for this, but two of the biggest ones are: (1) South Africa being a lower population density and generally larger, more spread-out country, and (2) different norms and expectations when it comes to service delivery.
From my experience with living in South Africa, I would say that it often takes more than a week to get something delivered if you order it online. You even have to arrange a time to receive it so that you can sign for the package and sometimes said package is not even fully intact! Compare that to Korea, where major online retailers like Coupang and Gmarket frequently offer and complete next-day delivery! There are even services that allow for items to be delivered by 6 or 7 AM the next day! I’m not exaggerating. I’ll never forget showing my dad this when he visited Korea. I ordered a bag of sugar at 11 PM and it was outside our apartment door by 6.30 AM the next morning, with a polite knock on the door. He couldn’t believe it!
There’s a misconception that Korea has no crime at all, however it does certainly have some crime. I had my bike-light stolen this year! That being said, it has one of the lowest crime rates amongst developed nations. The thing that still shocks me to this day though, is how much the average person here seems unconcerned with crime.
Let me give you some examples. Sitting in a cafe and leaving your phone/laptop out on the table when you go to the bathroom. Supermarkets leaving products out on the street when they close for the night. Leaving your keys in a running car while you go into the shop. Leaving expensive delivery items outside the door or on the street without a signature.
If you come from a society like South Africa, behaving like this in public would be absolutely ridiculous! I’ll never forget going to an area called “Car Land” or something like that, in Gwangju. I wanted to purchase a secondhand car, but I was just utterly astounded by how there were literally thousands of very expensive, fancy cars that all had their doors unlocked and the keys on the dash. It was just so easy to enter and turn on the ignition of a Jaguar! I had never been inside one before!
There are quite a few dishes in Korea that are unfamiliar to a Western palate, but that you can really learn to enjoy with time. So for example, I remember finding the acidity of kimchi difficult to enjoy the first time, but now I can’t get enough of it! Similarly, I can still remember eating rice cakes (ddeok / 떡) and thinking the texture was far too chewy, but now they are one of my favourite treats, especially with fried chicken!
However, there are some foods that I think I will never be able to get used to, due to the taste or texture just being too unusual or too different. A food like grilled beef intestines (Gobchang / 곱창) to me has a strong smell and metallic flavor that I can never seem to enjoy, even though it’s my wife’s favourite food! And the same with a dish like live-octopus (Sannakji / 산낙지). I can eat it but it’s not something I would ever order out of preference, the textures/flavours are just too different for me to get used to!
When you go into a bakery in South Africa or England, there is generally a clear delineation between sweet and savoury. Usually, one part of the bakery has cakes, tarts, muffins, and sweets and the other side has things like rolls, bread, cheesy things, and meat pies. One of my former favourite lunches was a pepper-steak pie!
But in Korea, bread is sometimes seen as less of a main meal and more of a snack, and the Korean palate prefers some sweetness in a lot of its pastries. So what this equates to is, the first time you bite into a Korean pizza-bread or garlic-bread as a foreigner, you might expect something savoury but instead, you get hit with a powerful sweetness! It can be quite a strange experience if you’ve been eating bread differently your whole life! Especially coming from a country like South Africa, where it’s not unusual to eat bread 3 times a day for your main meal!
This has to be one of the things that will always amaze me! Generally speaking, public toilets in South Africa are not that great. They usually have some vandalism, some graffiti and they don’t smell that good. In fact, my parents would sometimes even stop me from going into them because they were concerned for my safety. Of course, this will differ from toilet to toilet just as it does in Korea, but some of the toilets here are just unbelievable!
I can very clearly remember going into a random subway bathroom once and seeing a plaque saying “this area’s best bathroom” or something like that. The toilets were spotless, played classical music while you were doing your business, and had about 10 different functions! Unbelievable, and most visitors I have hosted in Korea have commented on this as well.
The Korean Government invested heavily in internet infrastructure during the late 20th century and this has clearly yielded impressive results: South Korea has the world’s fastest average internet connection speed, the world’s highest DSL connections per capita, and very reasonable pricing.
If you come from a country like South Africa, this will never cease to amaze you! I was used to paying a lot more for much lower internet speed, often with the data being restricted. And if you live in South Africa, sometimes the internet literally goes down for days, weeks even months, at a time and there’s not much you can do about it! My Korean internet has never gone down for more than a few seconds at most in all the time I’ve been here.
So, which items on this list do you agree with? Do you have any that you would add? If you’ve not yet been to Korea, which one would you most look forward to experiencing?