Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

5 weirdest things about Korean culture

Korean actress Eugene demonstrates her small head
blue dot
Aug 01 2012

Yesterday I put on the floor a loaf of bread we would be using that day for English camp, and my co-teacher screamed in horror. The bread was in a plastic bag, but just the same she quickly snatched it up, before the ground could contaminate it, and placed it… on an air-conditioning vent. At that time I started to think about the weirdest aspects of Korean culture: the things I doubt I will ever completely understand. Here is my top five list.


Cultural definitions of what is “dirty” vary a lot. As an example, washing your hands after going to the bathroom makes a lot of sense – until you think of the other things we do with those parts of our body, without immediately running off to wash our hands. Not to mention the irony of people who use their mobile phones or ipads on the toilet, then wash their hands, leaving their phone unwashed…

Just the same – Koreans are paranoid about germs. In particular, the ground and floor is indescribably dirty to Koreans. I realized this at my first school, when my co-teacher, a lovely woman, would frequently come along behind me and pick up my bag – which I had casually placed on the floor – and put it on a chair or table. After this I noticed that Koreans never put their bags on the floor. Nor do they ever sit on the ground – not even in a park.

This is all fine until it gets absurd, as in my bread example above. I like the idea of taking off your shoes in the house. It makes sense.  But it gets weird when you come to school, take off your shoes and change into slippers, then go into another room in the school and have to take off your slippers. It reaches the heights of irrationality when you go to a restaurant or jjimjilbang, take off your shoes, then go to the bathroom – where a set of plastic, never-washed, communal slippers are awaiting you. Gross. I’d rather take my chances with the floor.

OK, Koreans are clean, Koreans are cautious about germs.  There is nothing wrong with that. When they have a cold they wear face-masks so they don’t infect outher people, which is nice.

It’s all good – until you go to a restaurant and the waiter brings out a big bowl of warm soup for the table. Petri-dish warm. And everyone starts digging in to it with their spoons.

I pointed out this irony out to a Korean friend once. They laughed and said, “Yes. But that is Korean culture.”


Koreans think about atmosphere a lot, and with a lack of obvious rationality.

I probably don’t need to get into fan death here. The Korean, at Ask a Korean blog, makes a good defense of fan death here and here. I always like his posts on Korean culture – as a person born in Korea with a fluent, intelligent approach to both Korean and Western culture, his opinions on these things are more valid than mine. I’ll accept his argument that in certain unusual circumstances, when the air temperature is above 35 degrees Celsius, an electric fan can act in a manner similar to a convection oven. The trouble with this argument is that this is simply not how Koreans see fan death. They see electric fans as menacing breath-sucking devices which can’t really be trusted, like the old wives’ tale of cats sucking a baby’s breath. The Korean’s arguments aside, the idea that an electric fan left on at night will kill you if you don’t also leave the window ajar is just absurd.

But Koreans generally have strange views about air, particularly internal air. My co-teacher insisted on humidifying the office air all through winter. Then summer came along, the air-conditioners went on, sucking all the humidity from the air – and the humidifier went away. Odd. Koreans, fans or no, are mistrustful of air inside a building, so even in the depths of winter they will usually insist on the windows being ajar. I heard once that this was a legacy of Korea’s rapid industrialization, when materials in internal furnishings may have been made from ill-regulated products that gave off noxious fumes. I don’t know if this is true or not – I just know that it makes rooms damn cold in the depths of winter.

Late notice, no notice

Probably the number one complaint of foreigners in Korea (other than desk warming). In Korea, you are frequently advised of things at the last minute – or not at all.  Sometimes the things you are asked to do are by any rational measure impossible. When your co-teacher asks you at four o’clock to prepare a semester’s worth of lesson plans by tomorrow, you will understand the frustration.

I have to say that this doesn’t bother me too much anymore. I still find it peculiar, but have learned how to deal with it. I’ll even take a guess at the reasons for it.

Firstly, how to deal with it: in my experience, impossible tasks do not demand impossible efforts. A request for a semester’s worth of lesson plans, translated into something more reasonable, is actually this: “Can you put together a shitty document, with lots of copy/pastes, that I can use to satisfy the paperwork demands of people higher up than me?” In your native country, this is probably how the request would be phrased. Korea is a high context culture that expects people to understand what is going on without being explicitly told**See also nunchi.

Also – when I have been given a last minute task or burden that is genuinely impossible, I’ve never had too much trouble  resolving the situation in a way that is satisfactory to everybody. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through a ritual similar to this one: a co-teacher comes to me before the holidays, saying, “There is a problem. The vice-principal has decided that we have to do a three week winter camp. So you will only have four days of holidays.” In such a situation, many native teachers seem to lose their shit, throw a tantrum, and cause irreparable harm to their relationship with their school.

Instead, calmly say, “I think that is very difficult. Because, as you know, we have already made plans for a one week camp. And I have booked plane tickets back to my home country, which can’t be refunded. Also, I think I am supposed to have 10 vacation days.”

Invariably, what happens next is this: my co-teacher nods and says, “OK. I will talk to the vice principal again.” 10 minutes later, she will return and say, “Good news! The vice-principal has changed his mind. There will only be a one week winter camp after all!”

I don’t know why this ritual is necessary, but I have been through it so many times by now that it doesn’t stress me too much. My best guess: it allows everyone the opportunity to demonstrate their Confucian virtues. Your vice-principal gets to demonstrate his expectations of hard-work and benevolence, and your co-teacher gets to be a dilligent advocate for you. It’s weird – but it’s not worth blowing up about it.

As for the last-minute habit: In a society where the people above you have so much power, it is a good idea to give them everything you are supposed to give them at the last minute. It makes it harder for them to change their mind and insist you do it a different way. These days, I do everything at the last minute, too. If I finish my work early, I will save it and wait until the last minute to pass it on.  Of course, that doesn’t explain why demands are also made at last minute when they are handed down the chain – perhaps it is just habit.


I don’t understand gift-giving in Korea, and suspect I never will – I think perhaps you have to be raised in this country to understand the complex expectations and mutual reciprocities surrounding it.

In Korea, lots of gifts are given. They are given on big holidays, like Chuseok, and they are given randomly, with I don’t know what significance. On my first day at this school, a co-teacher gave me some socks because we were the same age, and thus chingus. Occasionally one of my co-teachers will give out cans of tuna to everyone in the office. Everyone occasionally contributes some nice bread, dokk, or donuts to the office snacking supplies.

If you take an overseas trip, you should bring back something for your principal and co-teachers. It could be worse: my vice-principal recently went to America. We all had to troop together to her office to say goodbye (she was only going for one week). Upon her return, she presented every staff member – maybe 70 people – with a souvenir pen. It must have been the cheapest souvenir she could find – mine wrote for about half-a-line before giving out – but even so, buying them for everyone must have cost a bit.

A while back my parents came to Korea to visit me. They came to my school, met my principal, met my students, and it was a really nice day. Before they came, I sent my co-teacher a message, asking if they should bring a gift for the principal. I had already decided that they should bring something for my co-teachers, who were inevitably going to go to a lot of trouble to be good hosts, and had already helped me re-arrange my schedule so I could have some extra time off. So I didn’t bother asking if they should bring a gift for my co-teachers. I knew what they answer would be if I did: “Of course not. Don’t worry about it.” But how to interpret that statement…? Better to just be safe and bring a gift.

My co-teacher replied, regarding a gift for the principal: “No need. Just enjoy the day.” But I decided that since the principal was hosting my parents, it would be best for them to bring a gift anyway. I helped them pick out a gift: a set of three nice jars of cookies. We bought two sets, one for my co-teachers, and one for the principal.

The principal accepted his in a manner that made me think it was the right thing to do. My co-teachers said, “Oh, thank you. There was no need.” Whether there was or not, I still don’t know.

What I know is this: on the last day my parents were here, two of my co-teachers disappeared for an hour and came back with a bag. As I was leaving, they said, “Oh, this is a gift from us to your parents.”

It was a set of three cookie jars. Very similar to the ones my parents had given them. Except slightly but noticeably better in quality.

I still don’t know how to interpret that…

The Korean beauty check-list

Imagine for a moment that I am describing to you a girl who I think is really beautiful.

“You should see her. Her face! It’s so small. And her nose is really high. She has the palest skin, and her eyelids have a perfect crease in them.”

Sound strange? Not in Korea. If you happen to be blessed with pale skin, a high nose, double eyelids†,†Double eyelids is a confusing term if you’re not familiar with it. It means to have a crease in your eyelid, something that Caucasians invariably have and many Koreans do not. It is different from an epicanthic fold, which is the feature most Westerners probably immediately think of when they think of East Asian eyes. Double eyelids can have the effect of making the eye appear larger, although to my eyes the most beautiful Korean eyes are often ones that don’t have it. and a small face, come to Korea. You will get called beautiful or handsome a lot.

Korean beauty standards is a topic deserving its own post. It’s strange, and culturally interesting, and in some ways tragic – but for now I’ll just note that it’s weird, and leave it at that.

Waegukin wrote these 2051 words on August 1st, 2012 | Posted in Culture |


51 comments on “5 weirdest things about Korean culture”

  1. Michelle says:

    hahahahaha i found this post really funny

  2. Mariz says:

    There are many koreans here in my country and I noticed something weird about them. Whenever they are chatting, they can’t keep their voices at low tone. Seriously. They are like always yelling at each other and likes to laugh at many things. I do think it’s really weird too.

  3. The Waegukin says:

    Mariz, be careful. The sound of people speaking in another language can be distracting and irritating, but I haven’t noticed a Korean tendency to chat at loud volumes. You’re getting a little close to ching chong ling long ting tong territory.

  4. Mr. Kim says:

    haha….. funny story but I kinda agree with you. As a Korean, I also hate that people are talking about someone’s face size….

  5. Youngjo says:

    The Waegukin//I’m korean living in the US, and to be honest, they are obnoxiously loud. Not all, but majority of Koreans only communicate to one another, and that fortifies their “Korean Pride”, as if it protects them from social norm.

  6. Denis says:

    About the cookie story and your parents –
    From a Chinese perspective – I can relate to many things going on here.

    – your co-teachers wanted you to have a good time and not have any hassle.
    – your co-teachers were helping you so if you gave a gift to them then it’d might considered as losing face
    – your gift given to the principal might be considered losing face for your co-teachers as they couldn’t predict what quality of gift your parents would give to the principal.

    – the “higher quality” cookies is an attempt at your co-teachers at saving face.

  7. The Waegukin says:

    Hi Denis – thanks for the explanation. I am sure you are right, and assumed it was something like that. But the thing is, even with your explanation, I can’t follow the reasoning of it. Which is why I find gift-giving and gift-receiving to be one of the most difficult parts of living in Korea. I just don’t understand the undercurrents of it and what they represent.

    In Western cultures, I think gifts are given either out of obligation on specific occasions, or as a way of expressing gratitude or appreciation. As your comment indicates, there is a lot more going on with it in Far Eastern cultures, and I think it may be a very difficult thing to grasp if you didn’t grow up in one of those cultures.

    It bothers me a bit that the gifts may have caused embarrassment – that was certainly not the intention. Hopefully they understood, even if I did do the wrong thing.

  8. A baybay says:

    It’s true. Some Koreans outside of Korea chat and laugh loudly.
    But it’s also true that some expats in Korea are just as boisterous and shirk cultural norms. Like one time, I walked on a subway train to see a group of 8 English-speaking expats sitting on the floor in a circle playing a card game. Eh???

  9. The Waegukin says:

    You won’t get any argument from me that foreigners here frequently ignore cultural norms on the subway. I’ve told them to be quiet myself on occasions.

    But I have doubts about the truth of your story, as what you are describing is a pretty notorious PHOTOGRAPH which was condemned by pretty much everybody:

    See here.

    Let’s all try to keep it civil, OK? None of this is about one group of people being better or worse than another group of people.

  10. A baybay says:

    Woah there, Waegukin. First of all, I never said anything about one group being better than the other, nor was I trying to instigate anything. Was simply stating that there are loud and obnoxious people on both ends, so there should be no finger pointing.

    Second, what’s with all the accusations? I never even knew this picture existed. The group I saw was much bigger than this, and from what I gathered, they were all coming back from vacay-ing somewhere. I guess this isn’t as uncommon as I had thought.

    In any case, great blog- definitely makes for an interesting read.

    Cheers, mate!

  11. The Waegukin says:

    Apologies if I misunderstood your intent. I just don’t want to see this turn into a debate about Westerners vs Koreans.

    On a completely unrelated note, I am about 70% convinced I used to know the guy in the green and white shirt. And he was a complete idiot. I do think it is pretty aberrant and uncommon behaviour.

  12. Wojtek says:

    That is really interesting, cos i’m living with Korean girl in one house, and she do not give a damn to clean the toilet or kitchen after herselve.

  13. The Waegukin says:

    Expecting an individual to be a certain way because of generalized ideas you have about their ethnicity is known as “racism”, and is not a very appealing quality, Wojtek.

  14. Chris says:

    Expecting alone isn’t racism, but discriminating based on those generalisations is.

    Less of the mighty attitude please. It’s a decent website, especially with the document check-list.

  15. Chayma says:

    actually the most weirdest thing !! is that my Korean Ex boyfriend !! broke up with me because i called him to say im in a welcoming party with my friends !!! -_-“

  16. qwerty says:

    as a korean who lived there half my life (now living in u.s), this is how you should interpret the gift giving.
    your co-teachers prolly gave you jar of better quality cookies as courteous gesture to your parents. When koreans receive a gift, they generally want to give back something too. It ain much different from western culture of giving gifts.
    Also, parents are respectable figure, so your co-teachers wanted to give your parents something better, especially when your parents gave your vice-pres a gift. As for the choice of the gift, they prolly chose cookies because they don’t want to give something that your parents wouldn’t like, so they just went with the safe bet and got your parents a jar of better quality cookies.
    Don’t think too complex, they always do it out of good will

  17. The Waegukin says:

    Thanks for your insight, qwerty. Your explanation makes sense to me.

  18. Rhonda says:

    I’ve had a few Korean renters (students)
    When they leave they never tidy their room.
    Worse though they never clean the toilet , they leave it disgusting.

    Maybe it’s just their age.

  19. Johan says:

    Chris, what mighty attitude? The author of this blog was clearly being respectful and encouraging others to be so as well. Discussion of these types of cultural differences very often and very quickly devolve into ignorant judgements, the author was trying to keep the conversation civil.

  20. James says:

    Hi there You have to know…Not all Koreans talk loudly and some of them are good mannered. Also there ARE people in YOUR country who talk like you said. It is NOT our culture that our people talk rudely. It’s just some of us. I think you should know that.
    I think it it is improper to say that our country’s culture is weird. I respect your situation and your culture.


  21. Sangwoo says:

    I’m a Korean native that lived in America for five years as a kid, and I could definitely attest to Korea’s gift-giving culture upon my return to Korea. Maybe it’s because Koreans have lived so closely with one another as neighbors throughout most of their history (I refer to the Joeseon dynasty period and all that before) My apartment neighbors gave me gifts upon moving in. It’s very nice, but gets repeated so often that it gets a bit meaningless.

  22. Amanda says:

    My parents were married in Korea in the late 70s. As it concerns air, Koreans afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to my parents, back then, very apartment unit used to keep a caged small bird like a parakeet as an ad hoc carbon monoxide detector. The birds perish much more quickly than humans, so if the bird was okay your air was still okay.

  23. Waegukin says:

    Sounds like a plausible explanation to me, Amanda. Thanks.

  24. Stephen says:

    I am American. I was amused about comments regarding volume of Korean’s speech. Well, here is my brief tirade: New Yorkers are rude and obnoxious. Just talk to one for a moment. In Texas the waitress calls you Sugar, in North Carolina you are Honey and at Starbucks you are nothing. Californians cannot listen without interjecting countless ‘u-hun’, yes, and… well, they just won’t shut up. People in Chicago are arrogant, and in Oregon simple thieves. How is THAT for generalizing everyone?

  25. hanul says:

    everyone starts digging in to it with their spoons.

    koreans had lots of wars. therefore koreans start digging their soup together. while war there’s not enough dishes and pots. before the war. koreans had their meal on the personal table. (the personal table! and you can think also this is weired. ……. )doesn’t share one pot. I learned it from the text book when I middle school. original was diffrent. I think occationally this is weired to share the soup and I feel unwilling to share it too.

    sorry for my lack of english. I wish all you guys don’t think us weired.

  26. Waegukin says:

    Hi 하늘, thank you for the information. I hadn’t heard that explanation before.

    Personally, I don’t think Koreans are weird, but occasionally some parts of Korean culture are difficult for me to understand, and can seem weird.

    Thanks for commenting, and I can understand your English very well!

  27. Daniel says:

    Hey you guys Korea’s a good country We made Samsung LG and other stuff and were not dirty or loud Don’t get prejudices

  28. Liz says:

    Many, many thanks for your explanation regarding last-minute and impossible tasks! I’m preparing to move to Korea, and given that I’m something of an anxious perfectionist (and had heard to many freakout stories), I think I owe you my sanity/quality of life in advance. In all seriousness – it’s already a major relief to have a chill way of framing those situations so I don’t get overwhelmed.
    Also, props for the general awesomeness that is your blog. It’s one of the best written blogs I’ve come across, well-thought out, and makes for an addictively entertaining read.

  29. Mike says:

    Awesome read. I’m a Korean Australian and I lived in Seoul for two years way back in the day.
    The last minute jobs… omg. Bringing back bad memories. I remember it used to make me so mad.

    LOL at the cookie jars. Maybe they’re trying to one-up you or something. Koreans tend to be a bit competitive about showing whose stuff is better – and they do it in weird, subtle ways.

    Food was awesome. Convenience killed it. People are very gracious and nice. Also, was very surprised at the immediate you’re-one-of-us attitude. Walked into a gu-cheong, filled out a form regarding my Korean heritage, handed it in, photo taken, bam, F4 visa (pretty much makes you an unrestricted resident of South Korea for two years).

    Did you ever learn about yu-haeng? It translates into “trend” and doing something for the sake of being trendy is all the justification you will ever need. That one bothered me a bit because I am not trendy at all and got judged for that, A LOT! Had a mate call me “fashion terrorist” every single time I saw him.

    All in all, very cool place!

  30. Shinyoung Kim says:

    Hahahahaha! I haven’t laughed so hard in years – the cookie set part to be specific.
    I am a Korean who has spent her childhood in the States and this is really funny. Kkkk I don’t really find this post to be offending, but rather honest!

  31. Leah says:

    Haha, This was a good read.I like seeing how different cultures do things differently. 🙂 Thanks for this!

  32. MrMe says:

    To the “I haven’t seen Koreans talking loudly” comment. Are you a retard? OMG they are so noisy. In the word of Spartacus pull head from ass.

  33. Bariy Henry says:

    I think Korean are interesting and a very nice And I love their culture the Korean culture

  34. Ron Mexico says:

    nicely written without the usual “cultural bashing” that is so prevalent among westerners here. Well done–noted the frustration–but accepted. Yay!

  35. Phil says:

    Great post. Very well written. Love the anecdotes. I lived in Korea for 2 years and never got the “leave everything until the last minute”. I think you are spot on with your explanation.

  36. Sem says:

    Why do koreans wash their hair for a few times a week?

  37. Soo-Jong says:

    I think your alleged observation, regarding hair-washing, is less of a cultural thing and more of you just noticing an Individual doing something you don’t, and automatically assigning it to ‘cultural differences’ because you happened to be in a different culture’s ‘home field(so to speak)’ when it occurred.

    There is no standard, anywhere, to how often one washes their hair. Now, unless you are referring to bathing-as a whole, I think you are just assuming your ‘individual’ normal is the norm for Everyone of your culture. While the majority of Americans sure do wash their hair daily, there is also a very sizable minority who don’t(Women; as a man who used to straighten his hair everyday, I totally understand the time-saving aspect of it) for a variety of reasons. Time saving is one reason, but it’s far from the Only reason.
    Believe it or not, CLEANLINESS is actually cited as a reason why many American women,(of European descent in my personal inquiries) don’t wash their hair daily. The soap washing away your natural oils and grease causes Up-regulation(erm, or is it ‘Down’-regulation; it’s the one that happens when you constantly use nasal spray and end up with worse natural congestion) and you end up with naturally more-greasier hair than if you hadn’t washed every day.

    Also, I’m going on alot of assumptions of what you even mean here. You need to be specific as to whether you mean “wash,” i.e. rinse-lather-repeat, or if you are just referring to the rinsing part. The aforementioned American women I got my info from still by-and-largely rinse everyday, as its not easy to shower without getting their hair wet. It’s just the washing part they don’t do, as they claim that their hair actually has less oils and grease naturally by washing less. By stripping off the grease less often, the body down-regulates grease production.

    So, if you truly meant ‘wash,’ I think you should reevaluate whether or not washing your hair with soap daily is indeed part of the ‘culture,’ or whether it might just be your personal preference that your extrapolated into your individual lens of normalcy, or whether it truly is an objective observation of culture.

    But, if by ‘wash’ you just meant ‘rinse’ or ‘wet,’ it would actually seem that what you’re truly remarking on is your alleged observation of them not showering/bathing daily, to which I have no idea, therefore no opinion one way or the other. But as far as ‘washing’ goes, I don’t think there’s any true ‘cultural’ standard, at least here in the US.

    ps, I’m assuming the ‘washing with soap and water’ as your “wash” because, if you said you “washed” the dishes but didnt use soap, I don’t think anyone would agree that you washed them. ie-rinsing is NOT washing.

  38. Soo-Jong says:

    Lol, geez, looking at how long that is, can anybody guess who the “Lit. Major/philosophy minor” is here with nothing but time on his hands…

    That’s also why I don’t tweet. I don’t think one can adequately express oneself within artificial constraints, such as character limits and word counts. I refuse to speak/write/listen/read NewSpeak

    And(as to why I don’t(can’t) tweet), I digress wayyy too much

  39. Bella says:

    I’ve lived with 2 Korean housemates (23 and 32 years old) and many friends of them, as they always came over. Very strangely non of them had any idea about cleaning after themselves.
    Cleaning the kitchen after using? Nah
    Cleaning toilet??? Nah
    Rinsing bathtub after washing up? Nahh
    So dirty.. The only thingthey kept almost clean was the floor of their own rooms.
    I don’t want to generalize tho..

  40. Colin Heacock says:

    I can comment on some of the gift giving they do. In my example I very much like it. When visiting my wife’s mom in the hospital we would bring her food. When you bring food you bring enough for everyone in the room. I realized this was a custom when I saw other visitors do the same thing. I love this sense of sharing.

  41. Markus says:

    I’m a mudblood partially korean american and I’m loud as fuck. I don’t think it’s because of my korean genes but because that’s WHO I AM. However I do in fact find koreans less careful of their surroundings. Not suggesting that koreans are any ruder, but they are careful not to hurt others’ feelings in different ways than westerners. I won’t weigh each cukture’s sincerity for not many are sincerely nice without expecting anything in return anywhere around the world anymore. Us who are exclusively used to western culture, the nice thing to do is: ask rhetorical questions all the damn time, hold doors, go through a crowd while casting the “pardon me” spell over and over. Sometimes seems robotic but we respect people’s privacy n wishes, question-answer system is straightforward (yes is a yes no is a no) We are individualists but it’s convenient when you don’t have to buy snacks for the whole office or keep track of who owes who how much. Koreans on the other hand, give you more goods/foods than you payed for, Generamous with materilistic things,love to share and go the extra mile to satisfy your needs. But they can be nosy, feelings can be hurt if an answer is intrepreted different than the answerer’s intentions, They will be less likely to say sorry or excuse me as they go through a crowd.
    Whichever one you’re used to, they both are proven effective in their own culture cobsidering korea’s ralid growth and euro american’s strong grip on the globe. One might call the other weird, but all you gotta say is “we aren’t butthurt, you’re weird as fuck too”.

  42. Markus says:

    I think about the cleanliness part of koreans is that korea kids are used to their parents doing everything for them. They put banchan on your rice for you even when you’re in highschool, do your laundry, fold them, clean the house feed you and give up absolutely everything they own for you, but we are trained from a young age to have a laundry basket and do our laundry our own, clean up, learn to drive at a young age, and assume that college tuition will be taken care of by ourself not our parents unless they are rich af. I think it’s because if thay individualistic side of western culture that plays a role here. It doesn’t mean we’re selfish and care less of our children. It’s just we don’t kill our lives for our children but make sure they can survive on their own and function properly.

  43. Markus says:

    fuck my typos and google keyboard hope the context is enough for you to decipher them. Tschüss

  44. Tessa says:

    I happen to live with a Corean family and I can safely say that, they are not clean at all, toilet is left without flashing and worse. Kitchen is never cleaned, ever, not even the counter after they use it. Hoovering is something they did only once in a year and that was just after I complained that I have been cleaning the house for a year and no one has lse helped and they just hoovered 2square meters by the front door.
    The landlady keeps telling me that she does not like to clean, on her days off (which are many) she just watches Corean soaps on her ipad.
    They are a nice family but they admit to not wanting to clean and they will not clean the house at all.

  45. The teabagger says:

    what a load of bollocks……
    Koreans and cleanliness. they cough and sneeze with their mouths open and with no hands. as for being quiet. They can be as loads fuck. Racism? lots of it here

  46. me says:

    Korean are germaphobic??? Lollls

    I live with 4 of them and they have no idea about hygiene. They leave everything is house dirty and skip their “cleaning” turns for days saying they are too busy and “stressed out” to clean. Just to spend the whole day and night watching Korean dramas on a high volume.
    They also never socialize non Koreans. Always among themselves, even tho we are all foreign students living abroad. Then they don’t hesitate to host every Korean “friend” of them for weeks and weeks without a second thought.
    I have also learned that they lie about everything.

  47. Andy says:

    To me this is not very much objective

  48. Anne says:

    This has been a long thread & running for quite some time. I appreciate the original blog & Waegukin’s intentions contained therein. For over 20 years I’ve had close, personal & frequent contact with hundreds of Koreans, young & older in Australia. I have also visited throughout Korea several times & have had the privilege of being a guest in several Korean homes – a rare opportunity to observe & experience their culture up close. In addition, I have had many young adults live with me & my family. In addition, In Australia over several years, I have supervised a number of Korean student households. In response to various comments in this thread I would like to share several of my own observations:
    1. Stating the obvious there are good, bad, indifferent & ignorant Koreans as there is with any other culture. Overall though my view is that Koreans in general have a desire to please & are very hard working.
    2. The above doesn’t mean they know about keeping anything clean though. This appears to relate to how well they have been taught by their mother or not. In most cases, it seems that they haven’t been taught and have been spoilt with their mother doing everything for them. It is widely believed that life as a student in Korea is so difficult that they shouldn’t have any other burden. This differs from other cultures that have an emphasis upon training their children from a young age in practical matters & thereby allocating them tasks with ever increasing responsibility as they mature so that they have the best opportunity to grow into adults who are adequately equipped to live in the big, wide world when they leave home. It’s a cultural difference & emphasis.
    3. Having ascertained they are inadequately trained, I have found most young adult Koreans willing to learn about household tasks & grateful for the opportunity presented to learn how to do them. This has been the case when I have shown them & also when I have delegated this responsibility to a young Korean lady too.
    4. As far as the level of volume of sound when talking in a group – yes it can be loud – they enjoy eachother’s company. This can happen anywhere in the world. However, even Koreans will tell you that people from particular provinces have a tendency to be louder than those from other areas such as Seoul!!
    5. On the whole, however, it’s been my observation that when in small numbers Korean people are not usually unduly noisy when having an every day conversation. Of course, where alcohol is involved the volume level increases as it does anywhere.
    6. The gift giving & receiving can be a nightmare to negotiate & understand. Whilst this cultural practice may originate from good inftentions and be a means of showing respect & of valuing towards the recipient, it has the potential to become an opportunity for what I term ‘one-upmanship’. It may be deemed as ‘saving face’ & may genuinely be this on occasion, but it can be difficult to discern because in such circumstances Koreans can be very competitive with one another & may want to be the one to show the most respect or even to demonstrate how successful they are by demonstrating affluence.
    7. There are aspects to the Korean culture that can be difficult for someone from a western culture to understand but that are similar to other Asain cultures. Two that immediately spring to mind are:
    (a) That it’s impolite to say a direct “No” to someone that you have to defer to or show respect to or indeed someone that you do indeed respect. This leads to all sorts of complicated opportunities of having to learn to interpret signals & to not being offended when they suddenly cannot come to something at the last minute. However, it’s something I try to address when them when they are living in Australia:
    – it’s okay to say a polite “No” even to someone senior & it’s helpful to provide some suggested examples of how to do this
    – it’s very impolite in Australian culture to not attend something that you have said you’ll attend. If this happens more than once, then it’s unlikely you’ll receive another invitation & you’ll have upset that person much more than a polite “No” will
    (b) I have ascertained that there is a massive cultural issue around the subject of appropriate boundaries – something westerners learn a little about from an early age, but due to the Korean/Asain cultural emphasis upon showing respect to your senior, even if they are only one month older than you, this often effectively means having to obey them & can lead to becoming an abusive situation.

    These are a couple of comparisons between two very different cultures. Korea is a collective culture & this can have enormous benefits in production & efficiency.. However, there are negative aspects as touched on above. On the other hand, Australia is an individualistic culture where everyone has the right to their own viewpoint & to this being valued, where people have been taught to ask questions & to think things through. However, sadly in my view, as a culture we’ve gone too far away from showing respect to authority of any kind & this is reflected in the pain & distress experienced by many who are just trying to do their job, such as teachers, carers, hospital employees, emergency workers, parents etc.
    Of the Korean people who live in Australia, I have mainly had contact with those who desire to integrate & learn about western culture & learn conversation English. However, I’m very aware that there are many for whom this is too scary & too challenging & have therefore opted to remain living within a mini Korea in Australia, which quickly becomes outdated & out of touch with the real Korea. As has occurred with other people groups who migrated here. History shows us that for those who did not integrate well, it has led to them experiencing heartache & isolation down the track when their children marry people from another culture & their grandchildren cannot speak to them & they cannot attend school events or other cross cultural events. It’s very sad for everyone involved!!

    Not wanting to end on such a sad note, I will add that in general I have found that Koreans have a fantastic sense of humour & I love it that they will try to understand the quirky Aussie sense of humour – despite the language barrier!!

  49. KoreanAussie says:

    Hey Annie! As an Aussie who has many Aussie Korean friends and who now lives in Korea with Korean friends, I can attest and agree with everything you’ve said. I will say, though, that point 5 can possibly be said about people from almost any culture. When we foreign teachers get together we’re probably indecently noisy as well, to Korean people. It’s simply the delight of spending time with people who share a language and cultural understandings when that is a rare occurrence (most Korean people in my rural area don’t speak English and my Korean is still developing). So it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the case would be similar in the opposite direction, and for most situations where a culture is a minority, as is the case in a successful, truly multicultural country such as Australia – we’re all human aren’t we?

    And local reaction to that is mixed, some appear slightly annoyed, some curious, some indifferent and some smile. Probably similar, really, to Australian reactions to the same event. I suspect that the appearence of “being noisy” is related to language barriers. English speakers might see an Asian culture as ‘noisy’ when they can’t understand the language, and vice vera here in Asia. You only have to think about the situations you find people as ‘noisy’ – usually people are more likely to find people ‘noisy’ if they can’t understand the language.

    And I think that, in itself, incites fear in some way, fear of not knowing what the foreign language speaker is talking about, fear that they’re saying something bad about you. And that in iteself says more about the listener than the speaker. Me? I’m a smiler. I’m happy to see people happy, whether I understand their language or not. I’ve spent many hours in Australia in the company of my Korean friends, who constantly spoke Korean around me. Occassionally, someone would tell me what the heck they were talking about. I just assumed that they were speaking well of me or had my best interests at heart, if indeed they were talking about me at all. And here in Korea, it’s exactly the same. Many foreign teachers here in Korea appear to have a problem with that. I didn’t. But I can understand how that might be disconcerting. I got to know a fair bit about Korean people and culture before I came, so I didn’t find it a problem. We need to ensure that we aren’t wearing our inferiority complex when we hear language we don’t understand. You have a choice in what you assume – it’s a lot easier and wiser to learn to read people without requiring their words and assume the best.

  50. AJ says:

    What’s up with Koreans not cleaning up their bathrooms? When I first came over to my boyfriend’s place where he lives with his roommate, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that they kept it quite clean and tidy until I opened the bathroom door… You should’ve seen the look of horror on my face. The walls which were once white have turned brown, the mirror had so many smudges on it I could barely see my face in the reflection, there was dirt on the sink which has hardened over the years!

    And I thought it was just my bf and his bad cleaning habits. I’ve gotten into many arguments with two of my female Korean roommates because they simply refuse to clean up the bathroom and toilet after they shower and sh*t. It’s hell and I can’t wait to move out.

  51. Amyus says:

    Perhaps it’s a little late to join this discussion, but there’s a question I’d really like to find the answer to, concerning the behaviour of Korean males in films. I don’t know if this behaviour is cultural, affected behaviour only found in entertainment or perhaps learned behaviour adopted from older Korean theatrical traditions, but why, when confronted by a shocking event or discovery, do Korean males react by immediately sitting down or slipping onto their backsides then trying to push themselves away with their feet? At first I thought it might just be for comedic effect, similar to the prat falls seen in Western films, but I’ve noticed this same trait in all genres of Korean films. This is a genuine request, as I’m presently researching cultural differences between Western and Oriental horror films. Thanks for any advice.

Leave a Reply

Please note: if your comment is a question relating to your personal situation or a request for advice about living and teaching in Korea, please contact me directly, rather than leaving a comment here. Such questions won't be answered in comments.

Subscribe to Waegukin

If you enjoyed this, subscribe to Waegukin to get new posts, links, and commentary: