If you have limited time in Korea, or if you want to immerse yourself in the culture as quickly as you can, here are the biggies on my list! There’s also quite a lot of potential here for videos to follow.
Not only is the food amazing, but Koreans love it when you eat their food. Eating well is part of the culture. They may even call you beautiful if you eat well!
Don’t be afraid of the street food. Some of it smells horrible (and I can say that, because a lot of Koreans agree with me), but it’s pretty yummy.
Most westerners love Galbi, which is Korean barbecue- cooked right in front of you at your table! But don’t miss bibimbap, kimbap, kimchi, and dakgalbi.
I hope you like rice.
When you are full, say you’re full. Then eat more. It’s a compliment to the chef.
One of the first questions a Korean will ask when I meet them for the first time is “Do you like kimchi?” To that, I usually respond with “네, 당신은 스파게티를 좋아해요?” (“Do you like spaghetti?”) If it’s a child, they always laugh. If it’s an adult, they get my point.
2. Ride the bus. Take the subway.
3. Stay up late. Get up early. Work hard if you’re here to work. Play hard if you’re here to play. Do both if you can handle it.
4. Bow respectfully. When you meet someone, when you are leaving, when you want to say Thank You, sometimes even when you want to say sorry. In Korea, you can get away with a low head nod. In Japan, make sure it’s a full bow.
5. Pay attention to your gender roles. (Come at me with your comments, but this is very important! Maybe more on this later)
6. Push your way through the crowd. Just don’t push that senior citizen. Chances are they’ll push you first anyway.
7. Shop in the street markets, but don’t let your blonde hair get you ripped off. Barter if there’s no price sticker.
8. Bring gifts. Look up what’s appropriate and useful. (Actually, a lot of sites say vitamins and alcohol, but I usually bring sweets or food items.) Give to your hosts, people you meet, coworkers, friends. When you leave, buy gifts again. You’ll get gifts, so you want to be prepared to reciprocate.
9. Pass things with two hands, and receive them with two hands. Especially money.
10. Observe. Learn. Be able to coherently share and communicate. If you go back to wherever you came from, people will bombard you with questions, and your answers will be taken as fact. Make sure you’re not BSing because most people will never venture out of their own little worlds to see the big world like you have.
*BONUS: Ok, this was supposed to be a top 10 list, but I think there’s one more thing that’s really important. A smart phone or equivalent. Search the app store for Seoul/Korea specific apps, and go crazy! Definitely download a subway and a bus app, but also KaKaoTalk if you’re planning on staying more than a few weeks.