The recent travel bubble agreement between Singapore and South Korea must have been music to the ears of many Hallyu fans on our sunny island. Those who are fully vaccinated can now travel to Korea without the need for quarantine, allowing many Singaporeans to live out their K-drama fantasies once again.
However, before you take out your passport and begin packing for your trip, you might want to consider reading up about the country you are visiting. Not only does this give you a general idea of the locales you should visit, but it also allows you to be better prepared for the trip. This is because every country has its own unique culture, and South Korea is no different.
Despite sharing the same geographical region of Asia, Korean culture is still relatively different from Singapore's. In fact, you might even be in for a culture shock if you show up unprepared. So, if you plan on travelling to South Korea, here are the five things you should know about the Land of the Morning Calm.
Culture shock #1: Koreans use toilet paper for everything
In Singapore, we generally only use toilet paper for its intended purpose. However, you will be surprised to learn that Koreans use this common toiletry for a myriad of purposes. It is often used as a substitute for tissue paper, as Koreans use toilet paper to wipe their sweat, clean the table, and even blow their noses.
Furthermore, you shouldn't be surprised if you see a group of friends using a sheet of toilet paper as a napkin to place a generous serving of food so that everyone can share the dish. After all, social eating is a big part of Korean culture. Should you have the chance to visit a Korean friend's or relative's home, you might also find a roll of toilet paper sitting on their dining table.
Culture shock #2: There is free wi-fi everywhere
Despite being one of the most technologically advanced nations in Asia, Singaporeans often find themselves relying on their mobile data when they need to access the internet outdoors since our public wi-fi infrastructure is still sorely lacking.
Thankfully, there is no such concern in South Korea, which is widely considered one of the most technologically advanced nations globally. In fact, South Korea has the fastest average internet speed. So regardless of where you are in Korea, you are likely to find a free wi-fi hotspot for you to connect to.
All you have to do is click on your smartphone's wi-fi icon and browse through the free wi-fi connections available. However, do note that specific hotspots might require you to fill up a quick survey or view an ad fully before allowing you to access the web. Some might even have a time limit attached to them.
Culture shock #3: “Hwae-shik” culture
If you are visiting Korea for work-related purposes, you will definitely need to familiarise yourself with the " Hwae-shik " culture, especially if you want to make some new friends at work. Some of your colleagues might even invite you to join them for an after-work party, which usually involves dinner and drinking. This is what the Koreans refer to as 회식 (Hwae-shik, 会食).
" Hwae-shik " is a big part of the Korean business culture, and it aims to promote social harmony amongst colleagues. While attendance is not mandatory, you are strongly encouraged to attend, especially if you wish to avoid being seen as the party pooper. Think of it as a way to bond with your colleagues and get to know more about each other beyond the office environment.
Culture shock #4: The “Ppali Ppali” culture
Singaporeans have a hectic lifestyle, but you might be surprised to learn that this is nothing compared to the South Korean’s fast-paced lifestyle. There is even a term for it – 빨리빨리 (ppalli-ppalli). When translated to English, the phrase means “quickly quickly” or “hurry hurry”, which is an apt term to describe the fast-paced lifestyle and mentality of many South Koreans.
Many Koreans believe this sense of urgency is crucial if they want to achieve tremendous success. As such, they don't like to be late, and they don't want to be kept waiting either. Because of this mentality, Koreans may appear impatient to anyone unfamiliar with their culture.
One of the most prominent examples of the “ppalli ppalli” culture in Korea is the installation of a call bell at every Korean restaurant. You might even have noticed this feature when you dined in a Korean food establishment in Singapore.
This bell allows you to notify the waiters that you require their services, which is a faster way to get their attention as compared to waiting in vain and hoping one of them approaches your table. However, if this feature is unavailable in the Korean restaurants you visited, you can say “Yuh-gi-yo”, and the waiters will approach you as well.
Culture shock #5: Koreans rarely apologise when they bump into you
In Singapore, it may be a common practice to utter a quick apology when you accidentally bump into someone while walking. However, you might be shocked to discover that this behaviour may not be reciprocated when you visit South Korea. This can be a common occurrence, as the streets in South Korea are often jam-packed with people, making it a challenge to avoid bumping into each other.
For the uninitiated, they might consider this rude, but do note that the Koreans have no intention of being disrespectful. This is because Koreans rarely apologise when they bump into one another on the street, nor do they thank others for simple gestures of courtesy (e.g. holding open doors). They consider such minor incidents part and parcel of everyday life, so they generally do not offer or require a profuse apology and acknowledgement from the other party. Respect is exhibited in different ways.
It is common to experience culture shock when visiting a new country, even one that is in the same region as Singapore. However, one of the critical tips to adapting quickly to a new culture is to do your research beforehand. So as you begin to plan your trip to Korea, make sure to read up on the nation's fascinating culture as well.
Additionally, you might want to consider signing up for Korean lessons in anticipation of your overseas trip, especially if you are planning a solo trip. If you are unfamiliar with the native language, you will likely face issues navigating the area, which might impact your overall travel experience.
At ONLYOU Korean Language School, our teachers incorporate non-traditional teaching methods to stimulate our students' learning, and we often incorporate lessons about Korean culture into our classes as well. Not only can you learn helpful phrases to use during your overseas trip, but you can also learn more about the fascinating culture that can be found in the Land of the Morning Calm.