Every culture has it’s own unique set of seemingly bizarre traits. If you teach English in South Korea, your experience will be no different, Korea has a long list of quirky things you’ll come to realize once you’re in country. The price of fruit is exorbitant and considered an acceptable gift, tattoos are apparently terrifying, couples wear matching clothes and a visit to the doctor is an experience like no other, to name a few! You’ll learn to live with them, and probably grow to love them, but here’s a heads up of the strangest ones so you can mentally prepare yourself before you go.

0919 weird things in korea
Weird things in Korea. Photo: Youtube

1. BANGS GALORE: Jimjilbangs. PC Bangs and Noraebangs

“Bang” is the word for room in Korea.

[image source] A Noraebang is a singing room in Korea but don’t you dare call it Karaoke, that would be the Japanese version and this is NOT Japan, as the travelbud.

Jimjilbangs (wash room): Of all the things I experienced for the first time in Korea, this was the one that really blew my socks off. Jimjilbangs are large bathhouses that are gender separated, where you can shower, bath, get a scrub down, sit in the sauna and even sleepover in a large room. They are open 24/7 and cost around $12 for a single entry. As a naked foreigner, prepare to get ogled, but you have to do it at least once.

Noraebang – pronounced “Noh-ree-bung” (singing room): Opulent rooms where you can order drinks and snacks and sing your heart out to a long list of classic singalongs (mostly from the 80’s). They’re open till the wee hours of the morning, so you can sing all night till your voice goes.

PC Bang: Korea is high on the list of top performers in gaming world championships. People are borderline obsessed with gaming and a PC bang is where people can dedicate time to their passion, and play games in a massive room full of computers in a country with the world’s fastest internet, and even order food while you do it.

2. Chimaek: Chicken and Beer

Chicken and beer is the ultimate combo in South Korea, get it spicy or mild, either way the brew will make an excellent accompaniment

With a wide range of uniquely Korean traditional dishes, it may surprise you to know that fried chicken is a massive part of the Korean menu. The Korean twist on fried chicken, is that it’s always served with beer. Chimaek is a word that combines “chicken” and “maekju” (the word for beer). There are loads of chimaek restaurants dedicated to this fine delicacy, and they are always on the move making deliveries to hungry people in parks or at a baseball game.

3. A boozy affair

Soju is a staple at any Korean barbecue but it’s available from almost any local convenience store.

Let me not beat around the bush, Koreans love to drink. I thought it would be a sabbatical from drinking after my university days, but boy was I wrong! Soju, makgeolli and beer are at the heart of social (and sometimes business) engagements.

Drinking in public is legal and done regularly and with vigour. You can purchase alcohol at the convenience stores (which are situated about every 500m) for about $1-2 a pop. Drinking in a park or outside the convenience store is the recommended way to start a night out. NOTE: Western alcohol is extremely pricey, so stick to the local poison.

4. Plastic Surgery

[image source] It’s commonplace, especially in Seoul, to see adverts for plastic surgery in the metro and on the street.

When I first received my teaching contract, it clearly stated in no uncertain terms that having plastic surgery did not warrant a day off. My mom and I had a good chuckle at the unlikely possibility that I would have any nipping and tucking done in Korea and were quite baffled at the need to have it in the contract.

But when I got there, I realized that plastic surgery is a very normal part of life in Korea. Almost everyone has had a little something done, and it’s considered a good thing to do everything you can to improve your appearance in a country that values looks almost above all else except, except maybe for intelligence.

5. Brushing your teeth

Koreans brush their teeth after every meal as oral hygiene is extremely important.

This brushing doesn’t only happen in the privacy of your own home. People carry their toothbrushes with them when they go to work, a business meeting or even lunch with friends. This is one of the weird Korean traditions that I don’t quite understand!

Bathrooms in public spaces such as universities, shopping centers, and subway stations are filled with people queuing for the sinks to brush their teeth.

When at work, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit at your desk, with your mouth full of toothpaste, brushing your teeth whilst you continue the task you are doing!

6. Animal Cafes

The cafe culture in Korea is unlike any I’ve seen before. Everything from cute flower cafes, Hello Kitty cafes, figurine cafes to “poo” themed cafes. You name it, Korea has it all.

However, along with these fun, quirky cafes, come a few that I don’t agree with, namely the animal-themed cafes.

These cafes include the popular meerkat cafe in Seoul. Apart from meerkats, this cafe has a baby wallaby, arctic fox, and genet which is indigenous to Africa. There is also a popular sheep cafe in Seoul where you’re able to take selfies with these animals whilst you sip on your cafe latte!

Bearing in mind that these cafes are driven for tourism, it’s clear that they only see these animals as money making objects. I do not know the circumstances as to how they managed to get the arctic foxes and wallabies into Korea. Perhaps it’s all above board. But I still feel that these animals should be in the wild, and not bound to tiny cafes in the city center of Seoul.

7. Sizes of clothes and shoes

Planning on moving to Korea? Make sure you stock up on clothes and shoes if you’re anything bigger than a size medium! There aren’t many plus sized Koreans and this is attributed to my point above on beauty, as the torntackies.

Most international retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, and the like will have bigger sizes but expect only a small variety of options to choose from.

If you’re looking for shoes, your struggle will continue! Gary has been looking for a pair of hiking boots and trainers and cannot find a UK size 11 anywhere in the country! The biggest men’s size we’ve found is a UK 9 and ladies is UK 6!

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