You Say Potato, We Say Kimbap.

We don’t really. Kimbap has nothing to do with potatoes. But here’s a list of things I’ve noticed thus far that are different from how we do in the U.S.A. I’m sure it’s only part 1 of many.

  • Showering: now that we’re in our new dorms, this is hard to explain, but I’ll draw you a picture on this Post-It that is roughly the size of our old (and some current) bathrooms. Basically, think of a half-bath (aka a toilet and sink) and then add a shower. It’s 3.5×3.5 feet. Water gets everywhere and on everything and it’s like…you know when you pressure wash your driveway? That’s pretty much the shower. And when you’re done, it all just runs down everything like a tropical rainforest and even by 8pm that night, you still step in a puddle. It’s like a romcom shower–it’s everywhere and you’re just trying to strangle the showerhead like Steve Irwin (RIP) wrassled a gator and shampoo is in your eyes and its great.
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  • Calling the waiter to your table: in many restaurants, there’s a round button on the side of the table that you push to call the waiter. They smile, take your order, and then you don’t see them unless you call them again or your food is ready. This is great for that moment when you have your mouth full and OH WAIT NO ONE COMES BY TO BOTHER YOU ABOUT HOW GOOD THE FOOD IS, MHMM, RIGHT?!
  • Bowing: clearly a cultural thing–you bow to anyone of higher station than you–a boss, a government offical, always older people to honor that they got so old, I suppose. When in doubt…bow. And the more important the person, the deeper the bow.
  • Driving on the sidewalk: cars will straight up drive up them, park on them, honk at you on them. It’s kind of weird. Because there’s big cities everywhere, there’s parking garages…but they don’t use them, always. 
  • Super dark car tint: like chocolate, it can be as dark as you want. Who knows how many celebrities I’ve missed?!
  • International copywriting is a joke: seriously, I’ve seen so many logos with just colors or letters changed. Its funny until I’m eating something that has no resemblance to KFC.
  • You choose your seat in a movie theater: BEST BEST BEST. You get to see what’s available, you don’t have to ask “hey can you scoot down, there’s a bajillion of us in our group and we want to sit together.” Plus, you know already if you’re going to get the coveted front row bar to put your feet up on. 
  • Beer at movie theater: yeah, yeah, I know this isn’t unheard of overseas, but it’s like, every theater here. You can get whole meals.
  • LOVE COUCH: you can get a 2-seat “love couch” that is exactly what it implies. Two people can platonically sit next to each other without an armrest in between and have privacy dividers separating it from other love couches. Perfectly cool here.
  • Holding hands/touchy feely: which is strange, considering how conservative and image-conscious this country is, but two people of the same gender are totally fine to hold hands up to puberty. This continues to be socially acceptable for women forever, however by the mid-upper teen years, not so ok for guys. 
  • bringing your own food to baseball games is a-okay: big families, rejoice! Not only is it ok, everyone else is doing it too.
  • Cheese stuffed crust pizza: this brought to me by a co-worker who was super excited about the ooey-gooey goodness of stuffed crust pizza, only to discover that like a Russian nesting doll, there was a filling of the filling and that was sweet potato and that was not ok.
  • Deoderant: Koreans sweat. HOWEVER, somehow Koreans don’t smell. Well, they don’t smell like B.O. So I guess the deoderant market is aimed squarely at foreigners–a single “cheap” stick can be $7-8. And that’s the cheapest you’ll find; if you want a Lady Speed Stick or Old Spice, look to spend $10 at the cheapest, $15 gouging.
  • Korean elevator buttons: if someone has been an asshat and pushed all of the buttons, or…benefit of the doubt, someone “accidentally” hit a wrong one, just click it again to deselect. Probably learned after too many late nights in the skyscrapers of Seoul, it’s a great invention. Don’t want to see floors 13-35 on the way to 36? Boop. Undone.
  • Ice cream: the most popular ice cream here is something called “Shooting Star,” and I see it everywhere from the school here to Baskin Robbins and others. It’s as if bubblegum and vanilla ice cream had pop rocks swirled in. It’s exciting and startling and made me jump about 2 feet the first time.
  • X hands: just how it sounds! When saying “no,” or a very emphatic “no,” cross your two arms in an “X” to make sure they know that you mean NO! Sometimes done on a small scale with two fingers comprising the “x.” Sometimes I’ve found that I do it when talking to English speakers too–one of those things you’ll probably see me do even after I return stateside. 
  • Magnetic escalators for carts: I first saw this at Home Plus (aka Korean Walmart), which has 3 floors. When you need to go upstairs, none of this elevator business with a cart; you get on an escalator that is a moving walkway (no stairs, just a long angled treadmill), and when you push your cart on it, the wheels magnetize to the strip, allowing you to let go/not lean your whole body weight to keep it from crushing your toes/innocent bystanders. This is awesome and I don’t know why I haven’t seen it in the states. Of course, multiple floors in a grocery store is rare.
  • show pony: One great thing about America is the differences; rarely are people of other ethnicities and backgrounds stared at. Unless you’re being weird, and then you’re asking for it. Not so in Korea due to the mostly homogenous culture. Big cities like Seoul, Daegu and Busan have populations very used to waygooks (foreigners), and are usually pretty chill. However, it still happens that we get stared at a lot, especially African American co-workers. Kids, adults, doesn’t matter. One of my co-workers has a lot of freckles, and Koreans are strangely weird about her being “dirty” rather than freckled until she tells them.
  • Nobody touches the old people’s seats: There are designated seats on the subways that are for pregnant, injured, sick and old people. And I’ve seen 20 people stand and hold the rails rather than sit there, even when they’re all open. 
  • Everyone wears tennis shoes: doesn’t matter if you’re in a summer dress, jeans, shorts, or a feminine skirt, you’ll see tennies. Of course, you’ll still see heels (and their toes hang off!), but I’m surprised by how many Korean women will wear bright Nikes, Puma, Adidas, or Asics with what we would think is a contrasting color, feminine outfit. It’s totally smart and way, way more comfortable. 
  • Ajumas: if you read my previous post, you’re aware that an ajuma is the Korean word for older, grandmotherly aged woman. Ajumas are a little like a time bomb: sometimes they’re totally awesome and innocent and one gave me a piece of candy on a bus. Other times…they believe they are God’s gift to you and as such, have his permission to eternally jab your boobs with elbows, push past you in lines, hit you with their purses, and gesture and jabber at you until you go away or give them money. Times like these, I wish I spoke Korean…although I’m sure somehow I’d get struck down with lightning.

Like I said, I’m sure this is just part 1 of many. To another week we go–unfortunately, it’s gonna be in the 100s! OH NOES!

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