I’m almost 25% through my teaching contract here. In the past few months, I’ve noted a few differences between the U.S. and Korea, not trying to claim cultural superiority for either country — I’m in no position to do that, just observing. Here are a few random things I’ve noticed:
- Korea has really small trashcans. Like almost all trashcans are office paper baskets. And good luck trying to find a trashcan on the street. It’s worse than trying to find one in Midtown. (Interesting fact: there are no trashcans in Midtown because the police are trying to cut back on places for terrorists to hide bombs. A police officer told me that once, I think.)
- There are a lot of “love motels” in Korea. I probably don’t need to explain that… A lot of married people use them. Conversely, or likely actually associated, prostitution is a huge problem here but is kept really hush-hush. Every night after I leave work, I walk over a slathering of call girl business cards on the sidewalks. That makes me sad. In my opinion, people should never have to sell themselves to make ends meet. The U.S. also has an atrocious prostitution and sex trafficking problem…*
- On a lighter note, a lot of restaurants here only serve water. If anything, they’ll have water, beer, and soju.
- Also on restaurants, no one takes to-go boxes. So much food goes to waste.
- Most people don’t wear wedding rings. How do you know who’s single or who shouldn’t be flirting?
- Scented toilet paper is really popular. If you’re not into that, it’s wise to carry a plain variety in your bag.
- Homeplus — like the Target of South Korea — closes every other Sunday to give local businesses a share of the market competition. That’s really cool. Would Walmart ever do that? No. Never. (Never say never.) Ok, it’s extremely hard to imagine them doing so.
- Pharmacies here aren’t like CVS or Walgreens. There are very few medications that you can just pick out yourself and buy. Over the counters are actually over the counter. So, if you don’t speak Korean or you need meds for something that might be embarrassing to gesture, it’s probably best you take a picture of what you need and show the pharmacist.
- In the English academies, the kids go by their “English name.” I don’t really like this. I feel like they should just be allowed to use the name their parents gave them. Make the English teachers learn to pronounce them.
- Korean heating works through this system called ondol, which is basically floor heating. Personally, I’m not a fan. I mean, it would be cool in like a spa or if you sleep on the floor — which isn’t uncommon here, but I don’t really like having hot feet. Plus, I’ve been doing this ab workout a couple times a week, and the hot floor makes it extra uncomfortable. I know a lot of people who love it though. Personal preference, I suppose.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll let you know if I think of others. Cheers.
* If this is a cause you’re passionate about fighting, check out these organizations:
Uganda and South Sudan – http://childvoiceintl.org/
Thailand – http://shethailand.weebly.com/
Nepal – http://mountainchild.org/
U.S. – http://restorenyc.org/