The ABC’s of Korea

The ABC’s of Korea

It’s hard to believe, but I have now lived in Korea 3 months now.  Can you believe it?

Now that I’ve been here 3 months, I feel like I understand Korea a lot better than when I came.  Yes, I read the blogs and did my research, but still…there’s nothing like actually living here.  To “teach” you a little bit about Korea, I have decided to create an ABC list of Korea.  I know, I know….I’m such a teacher.  You got that right!
Some letters have more than one thing.  I sure hope you’re OK with that.  If not, oh well. 

  • “Annyeonghaseyo”, which means hello.  You say this to anyone and everyone you meet or run into.  If you run into a teacher in the hallway, you say “annyeonghaseyo”.  To not say it would be considered rude.
  • Artbox – Artbox is a fun store that has so many fun things.  It’s always a fun place to shop.


  • BBQ – Korean BBQ is by far THE best food I have had here in Korea.  It is so good.  It is not, however, a place I can go to on my own.  The smallest portion is for 2 people, so you have to go there with someone.
  • Bowing – When you meet someone or run into them, not only do you say “annyeonghaseyo”, but you also bow.  Bowing is different than just nodding your head…there needs to be some neck movement in there.  It took a while to get used to it, but now I bow at everyone….the school crossing guards, the school security guards, teachers, the principals, the cafeteria ladies, the greeters at Home Plus, the workers and cashiers at every store and restaurant, etc.  I’m going to move back to the states and bow at the lady at Target and get some very weird looks I’m sure.
  • Bibimbap – Bibimbap is a famous Korean one-pot dish, where rice, vegetables, red pepper paste, and sometimes meat is all mixed together in a big bowl with an egg served on top.  I’ve had good bibimbap, and I’ve had AWFUL bibimbap. 
  • Couple shirts – Korean couples LOVE to wear matching shirts.  I first saw these in China and thought they were hilarious.  I don’t know if they think it’s cute ow what.  Maybe it just takes the place of those shirts from the 80’s that said, “I’m _____’s girlfriend” and “I’m _____’s boyfriend”.  Yes, I want to be part of a couple, but NO, I will not wear couple shirts. 

  • Dogs – Dogs in Korea….how do I begin?  Small dogs are usually pampered here in Korea.  I have seen dogs wearing adorable outfits, dogs with dyed hair, and dogs being carried in baby-type carriers.

    Big dogs however, dogs over 10-15 pounds, are treated as meat or food.  You will see them chained up in yards, attached to old dog houses.  They are often raised from puppies, only to be killed and eaten for food.  It makes me sick to my stomach.  But I have to remember that I am a guest in this country, and this is how it has been done for years, especially by the older generation.  I have heard that the younger generation doesn’t do this as much, but they are still terrified of dogs and will run in the opposite direction if they see a big dog.  I know this from personal experience because Julie and I walked Pax and Sophie, our friends’ dogs, the other day when they went to Seoul for the day, and we saw people cringe when we got close.  IF they are kept as pets, they never get to go on walks, play in the yard, or curl up on the couch.  Makes me so sad for them.

  • Dickies – Dickies is to Korea what Abercrombie & Fitch is to America.  For all you Texans, I’m not talking BBQ.  They love to wear clothes with the Dickies logo.
  • eMart – eMart is like the Korean Super-Target.  It is wonderful.  I have found some great buys there…clothes, food, household things, etc.
  • Fashion – Korean fashion…it’s either hit or miss.  You will walk in a store and see some things that you LOVE…seriously love.  And then you will turn the corner and see the ugliest thing you have ever seen in your life.  So ugly that you can’t imagine anyone paying money to actually wear it.  The men’s fashion here is glorious (usually), and sometimes stores will have a bigger men’s section than women’s section.  Crazy, right?  The men mannequins in the store usually always have on amazing ensembles, but the women mannequins have the worst ensembles, with 3 things thrown together that you would never ever wear together, like a mustard sweater with a red fur vest and topped with a blue and purple leopard print scarf.  I’m not exaggerating.

  • Generosity – Koreans are very generous and love to give gifts and little tokens…an apple, a donut, candy, etc.  Here are a couple of the gifts I have gotten from co-workers:
    Sweet potato
    Dunkin’ Donut
  • Genes – Koreans are very small.  When you go clothes shopping, you feel so big because you have to wear huge sizes.  They have this thing called “free size”, meaning it fits everyone.  Hah!  Everyone ONLY if you’re Korean sized.
  • Hagwons – Hagwons are private schools that are run like a business.  Some hagwons are full-day schools, but most are after school programs.  Students go to school from 8-4pm and then go to a Hagwon until 10pm or even midnight.  They offer classes in art, English, math, piano, etc.  Hagwons are considered a necessity to Koreans to get into a good college.  Study really hard, go to school all hours of the day (and have no life), take the big test your senior year, and go to a good college.  If you are poor, then you are out of luck.  I have friends who teach at a Hagwons.  They are either a hit or miss for teachers.  You will either have a great experience or an awful one.  One of my friend’s principals embezzled money at her last two Hagwons and is constantly trying to take money off the top of accounts.  Also, parents are paying good money, so whatever the parent wants, the parent gets.  Discipline doesn’t happen often because it would make the parents upset.  Hagwons are all over Korea.  Here is a group of Hagwons in downtown. 
  • Home Plus – Home Plus is like our Walmart in Korea.  My Home Plus is only a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and it’s great.

  • Individuality – There is no individuality in Korea.  It’s all about conformity.  Koreans do what everyone else does, and there is no going against it.
  • Japchae – Japchae is a yummy dish made with sweet potato noodles.  Yum!
  • Japan – Koreans do not like Japan.  They don’t want to visit there and talk about it.  Japan invaded Korea, and it’s still a sore subject.  There is so much history there.

  • Kakao Talk – The biggest cell phone app is Kakao Talk.  Koreans use it text, share pictures, and talk on the phone.  And now since I am living in Korea, I use it too, as well as all the other expats in Korea.  If you haven’t downloaded the free app yet, do it!  Search for me, and you’ll be able to text me for FREE.  Come on!  My id is “texaschick”.
  • Kimchi – Kimchi is basically fermented vegetables.  Yes, fermented.  It is served at every single meal…even when you go out to eat at a restaurant.  I’ve heard you have to get acquire a taste for it.  I have yet to acquire a taste for it.  It’s awful in my opinion.

  • K-Pop – Let me tell you…K-Pop is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE in Korea.  K-Pop stars are everywhere.  Not only are they in music videos, but they are also used in advertisements.  Here are some of my favorite K-Pop songs: 

  • Lotteria – I LOVE Lotteria.  Their chicken strips and French fries have been my lifesaver here in Korea.  It is the only fast food place in my little neck of the woods.
  • Men’s fashion – Men’s fashion in Korea is SO nice.  The mannequins are always dressed nice in the stores, and men on the streets are sometimes dressed nice…but not always.
  • Metrosexuals – With the great men’s fashion, there are some metrosexuals.  It is very common to see men wearing skinny capris.  I would have never thought that was sexy on a man before….but now I think a little differently.  However, I only like it on certain men.  I can’t picture any man from Texas wearing skinny capris.
  • Make-up – I have never seen so many make-up stores in my life.  And nail polish?  You can get awesome nail polish for only 1,000 won a bottle ($1.00).  Yes, I will be bringing home nail polish.
  • Man bags – Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry had a man purse?  Well, in Korea, men everywhere have them.  Some of them look like messenger bags, and some look like purses. 

  • Noraebang – Korean karaoke baby! LOVE noraebangs! 


  • Octopus – Octopus is very popular to eat, dead and alive.  Here is a video of a guy eating a whole, live octopus. 
  • Phones – Everywhere you go, Koreans are on their phones.  Texting, watching videos, playing games…you know it.  Even the older Koreans have smart phones.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary to see a group of Koreans at dinner and everyone is on their cell phones.  Cell phone covers are bigger than big here too.  The “in” covers are big covers with a cute theme.  Some of them are huge! 
    Check out the wall of cell phone covers.  And that was just one wall.

  • Paris Baguette – A Paris Baguette is on pretty much every street corner, and they have THE best bread.  Their desserts and pastries are pretty good, but they are nothing compared to the desserts and pastries back home.  It’s almost like Koreans don’t know how much sugar to use.  They need to add several cups of sugar to each batch of goodies. 

  • Quick delivery – You can get any kind of food delivered.  McDonalds, Lotteria, and little Korean places all deliver.
  • Recycling – You MUST recycle in Korea.  If not, you can be fined.  You are also supposed to separate your food waste and put it in little containers.
    Recycling is put into clear bags
    Food waste containers – they stink!
    Food waste 
  • Red peppers – You see red peppers being sold in huge bags at the markets in Korea.  Red pepper paste is served with everything.  Even if it’s already in the sauce with your food, you can spoon some more onto your food if you want.  Koreans love spicy food. 

  • Running shoes – It is very common to see men and women wearing a really cute outfit with their running shoes.  Bright yellow, neon pink, bright green…the brighter the better.  And it certainly doesn’t matter if you the shoes don’t “go” with the outfit.  Who cares?
  • Selfies – Koreans LOVE, LOVE, LOVE selfies.  No joke.  They will all sit together with their friends and take selfies of themselves.  One of my friends counted the selfies that one girl took in 10 minutes at a coffee shop…she took 200 selfies.
  • Socks – Koreans love their cute socks.  They are everywhere.  And now I love the cute socks too and have more than several pairs. 

  • Sharing food – If you come to Korea, be ready to share your food.  You don’t bring a snack to work unless you bring enough to share.  You go out to a restaurant with friends, and you’d better be prepared to share your food.  There is no “this is my food and that is your food”.
  • Stairs – Oh my goodness.  The stairs.  Stairs are EVERYWHERE.  At school, at all subway stations, etc.  It’s like a never-ending stair master. 
  • Soju – Soju is THE beer of Korea.  We learned at orientation that Soju is the most sold liquor in the whole world, which is crazy considering how small Korea is.  That makes Korea the official drinking capital of the world.  It tastes like rubbing alcohol, and other foreigners agree.  When Koreans drink, they DRINK.  I thought Aussies could throw down the beer.  Nope.  They got nothin’ on Koreans.  Even CNN says talks about Soju.  It’s gross, but I did try it.  When in Korea and all…  “Soju is the most sold drink in the world”


  • Samsung – Samsung, Samsung, Samsung.  That is THE phone of Korea.  However, they do so much more than phones.  TVs, computers, home appliances…
  • Toilets – When you’re out and about, you will go into a bathroom and often have a choice of a regular Western toilet or a squat toilet.  Which one do you think I’m going to choose?  I had enough squat toilets in China and Russia to last me a lifetime thank you very much.  And the squat toilets here in Korea are small, so you have to have really good aim.  Another thing about the toilets is that you do not put your toilet paper down the toilet.  There is a nice little trash can next to every single toilet where you put your toilet paper.  You get used to it.  We find it strange though that Korea is so advanced in technology but not in their plumbing system. 
    A lovely squat toilet
  • Traffic lights – Traffic lights, shmaffic lights.  Red light?  No big deal.  Turn left anyway.  Traffic lights here are merely suggestions.  I have seen cars turn left on a red light.  I have seen motorcycles and cars run right through red lights WITHOUT even pausing.  I have seen countless cars make a U-turn wherever they want.  I hardly ever see a policeman, and the policemen certainly don’t give tickets.  I have not, however, seen a wreck yet although my friend had a wreck happen right in front of him the other day.  He was a little shaken up. 
  • Umbrella – The weather changes at the drop of a hat here, so you’d better be prepared and bring your umbrella.  Also, ajummas or old Korean ladies, will always have an umbrella up during the summer to block the sun.  It gets really hot here during the summer, and it is not good for a Korean lady to be tan.  In fact, Korean women often wear white make-up to make their skin even whiter.
  • Uniqlo – Uniqlo is THE best store in Korea, especially for foreigners where they have Western sizes.  You don’t feel like a huge cow when you shop there.  It’s like an Old Navy.  The prizes are great, and they always have great things on sale and on clearance. 


  • Volleyball – Koreans love volleyball and often have volleyball games with the teachers at schools.  At my school, about 1/3 of the teachers are blind, so we don’t have volleyball games.  I did play blind volleyball once, and I was much better at that than regular volleyball.  I stink (really I stink) at regular volleyball.
  • Waygook – If you are a foreigner, you are called a waygook.  So I am Angela, the waygook.
  • Walking everywhere – You walk everywhere in Korea.  Yes, there is the bus system, subway system, and taxis, but I walk a lot more here than I did back in Texas.

  • Exchange rate – The exchange rate between Korea and the United States is really easy.  1,000 won equals about $1.00.
  • EXO – One of the THE biggest K-Pop groups right now is EXO.  Here is one of their most popular songs, and I happen to really like it.

  • Young love – All the young couples here are sickeningly sweet.  Really.  They dress alike and are syrupy sweet with each other.  And when you’re stuck with them on the subway?  Watch out.

  • Zero tipping – You do NOT tip anywhere in Korea.  Not at restaurants, not in taxis, not at hair salons.  When we all move back home, we are going to have serious problems getting back into tipping.  What you see on the receipt is what you pay.  Period.

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