Every country is unique in its own way. Their little quirks make them different from what you may consider to be the norm, but those same quirks make traveling to these countries so much more interesting. After all, would you want to travel and spend thousands of dollars just to see another city just like yours?  Korea is no exception to this rule and they have their own ways in which they are different and special. But to those visiting Seoul or the fresh off the boat, there are a few curiosities that often need explaining, some of which may seem gross or rude, but in reality just add to the flavor of the Korean culture and makes it that much more unique.

1. Phallic Shaped Bathroom Soap

Alright, they are not entirely phallic shaped, but the way in which you lube up, I mean lather up, your hands is quite odd as well. But not to worry! It’s just soap.

2. Toilet Paper for Napkins?

Korea is not the only country that does this, but to the Westerner out there, they might just be a little confused.

3. McDonald’s and Burger King Deliver!

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, if you have any of your unhealthy (or healthy cravings) they will deliver to your home, free of charge, and do not require tips! Everything from fast food to Chinese food is deliverable to your doorstep.

4. No Last Call

If you have ever been to a country or city (i.e., Las Vegas) that does not have a last call, you know that your night does not end till the break of dawn. Find out what it is like to drink Soju all night on the streets of Seoul!

5. Need a Haircut? Be Careful.

While most people recognize barber poles for being a place to cut hair, in Korea there is a certain association with them and prostitution, particularly double barber shop poles placed right next to each other. So if you are looking for a haircut be careful where you venture!

6. Pushy Middle Aged Korean Ladies (Ajooma)

Seoulites always seem to be in a rush, which is no different from most metropolitan cities that have a high pedestrian population. But be wary! The Korean Ajooma will push and shove and not even flinch if you fall! They are quick in their natural habitat and may leap to hunt down the empty seat in front of you!

7. Cars Have the Right of Way

All those years being told that pedestrians have the right of way become useless in Korea. The pecking order is as follow: buses, cars, motorcycles, and finally pedestrians. If you are walking do not expect anyone to stop for you.

8. Wet Bathrooms

Korean bathrooms (minus the more upscale and Western varieties) are often tiled from floor to ceiling to allow the whole bathroom to get wet, shower areas may be non-existent, with a shower connected to the sink. Expect the whole bathroom to get wet! This does help with cleaning though.

9. Drive By Stinks

This is a problem for the warmer months (also when most people tend to visit Korea), but something to expect. You may find yourself walking down a street admiring the Seoul streets and high rises when you will be blindsided by a pungent aroma, that penetrates your nostrils and may have you gag if it is your first time. Usually from the sewage and manholes, the smells become extra strong during the summer when the humidity keeps the air generally still.

10. Plastic Surgery Advertisements

It is literally everywhere, plastic surgery adverts can be found in most public places and is quite mainstream. The highest concentration being in Seoul’s high class Gangnam district. The adverts do show some amazing transformations at times, one must admit.

11. Face Masks Are Not Only For Health

While many of the residents of Asia wear face masks to “protect” themselves from sickness, many young people are beginning to wear them for the sole purpose of making a fashion statement. With celebrities now endorsing the fashion face masks.

12. Different Colored Buses

Honestly had no idea, but (according to Wikipedia) they have different meanings! Blue is a bus that transits from suburban parts of Seoul to downtown areas, run by the government. Green buses are private company buses that transit people to major subway stations in the city. Red buses are express buses that move passengers from downtown Seoul to the outer edges of Seoul and at times to adjacent suburbs. Yellow buses (these exist?) go around in circles in the downtown area, connecting major locations in the area.

13. Restaurants and Self Serve Everything 

While there may be no tip in restaurants, you do get the service you pay for. While waiters and waitresses are generally more than happy to help you and they will bring the food to your table, after that it is all up to you. Water will be either given in a 1 liter bottle or you will have to find the cooler in the restaurant yourself, utensils are in a big box on the table for you to get yourself, and do not expect the staff to ask if everything is okay (press the service button if you need anything).

14. No Trash Receptacles

The lack of trash cans in Korea is quite apparent after walking around with a popsicle stick in your hand for thirty minutes. Which makes one wonder, they are trying to reduce litter, correct?

15. Everyone Smokes And It’s Cheap

Smoking is not only common in Korea (ranked 13 in the world) it is also quite cheap (about $2.30 per pack). While Korea has made strides in reforms in terms of smoking in public places, smoking still is quite common in restaurants, bars, and public sidewalks.

16. The Non-Existent Power of the Police

If you were a driver in America you will probably understand the feeling of hearing police sirens blare and your heart dropping at the same time. Perhaps it is the lack of guns or the lower crime rate in Korea, but Korean peacekeepers are just that, keepers of peace, rather than using physical force or whipping out their guns they tend to try to talk things out. Their most common cases being dealing with drunk business men on the streets. However, do expect them to interrupt and disband peaceful protests under the instruction of government officials.

Is there anything that you think should be added to this list? Comment below.

Image Cred: Cali4Beach | Aienazahiradaim

About The Author

D Lee

D. Lee was once a work-a-holic turned explorer. He now seeks to see the world and all that it has to offer one place at a time. D. Lee is Cali bred, but is currently living in Seoul, South Korea. He enjoys trekking mountains, tasting diverse foods, and meeting people from around the world. D. Lee envisioned a consolidated place for readers to engage and sync in with Korean culture, which led him to co-founding SeoulSync.


  1. christinanolanXD says: