The Kimchi-ite: 10 More Differences Between South Korea And The Rest Of The World

In the U.S., there is the art of tipping. In Finland, there is no such thing as college tuition; it’s almost completely subsidized by tax Euros. And in Ethiopia, food is eaten only with the bare right hand. Given South Korea‘s unique history and culture within Asia, there is no shortage of comparisons that can be made between it and the rest of the world. Even though I already reported on “10 Differences Between South Korea And The Rest Of The World,” more and more unique cultural curiosities are revealed to me everyday – things I couldn’t have possibly conceived of back in Florida.

1. Fan Death
Possibly the most internationally notorious Korean cultural quirk is the belief that if you fall asleep in a closed room with a fan on you will die. Theories include the fans causing hypothermia or even that the fan is removing all the oxygen from the room. Today, the myth is largely dying out with the new generation, none of my Korean friends believe it whatsoever, but they mention that they heard about it all the time when they were younger.

2. Koreans work more
On average, Koreans work 2,057 hours per year, 14% more than Americans, who on average work 1,797 hours per year. That’s an additional six workweeks per year. But that doesn’t really show the whole story and is probably only the officially reported and paid hours. It isn’t entirely uncommon for people to work 6 days a week, clocking in over 10 hours each day for a typical office job, with little or no overtime pay.3. Conscription
All South Korean males between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to serve in the military for between 21 and 24 months. This two-year commitment is a matter of much pride, controversy and angst amongst Korean men.

4. Don’t whistle after dark
Whistling at night is considered bad luck; it’s thought that it will beckon snakes and spirits.

5. Free and amazing delivery
Delivery is gold is Seoul. You can order virtually anything, at anytime, anywhere you are. Usually there are no delivery fees and you will often get full-blown, non-disposable plates and metal utensils. All you have to do, is leave it all out front of your apartment and the delivery guy will come by and pick it up later. Many restaurants that are not known for delivering in the U.S. have fleets of delivery scooters in Seoul – even McDonald’s.

6. Please eat. Don’t let it get cold
If you eat dinner at a restaurant with others, you will almost definitely not receive your food at the same time as each other. Your food just comes as it is finished in the kitchen.

7. No falling or springing
When my Facebook feed was recently flooded with status updates from my American friends groaning over an hour of lost sleep due to daylight savings time, I just laughed and savored the fact that my sleep schedule was not affected. Like most of the rest of the Eastern world, Korea does not observe daylight savings time. I personally love it. It allows me to get a better feel on the passage of time over each year.

8. Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Within Korean cuisine, there is no such thing as breakfast food or even specific lunch or dinner food. Most meals can be had during any time of the day, and all meals are accompanied by a helping of kimchi. McDonald’s does serve a typical Western breakfast menu, but the Korean restaurant next door does not.

9. No waiting on hold
Customer service is seen as essential, and business hotline wait times are kept to an extreme minimum, with people getting angry if they are left on hold for more than three or four minutes. When I tell people that it isn’t uncommon in the States for you to be on hold for an hour or more when calling the cable company on the weekend, they simply cannot believe it. One Korean friend who used to live in New York City once called the Metro Transit Authority and hung up after being on hold for 20 minutes, thinking that it was impossible to be left unattended to for so long and so her phone must be broken.

10. Limited travel patience
Earlier today, my Korean girlfriend asked me how far Disney World is from where I grew up in Miami. I replied, “Oh, not that far … less than a four-hour drive.” She simply could not believe that I would call four hours away “not that far.” South Korea is a relatively small country, about the size of Indiana. Driving from one extreme end of the country to the other takes five hours. Even then, there’s still the option of high-speed rail, which will cut down your travel time to just three hours.

Be sure to check out the first list of Korean eccentricities here. As always, you can find more on Korean culture, food and eccentricities from previous Kimchi-ite posts here.

[Photo credit: Jonathan Kramer]

The Kimchi-ite: 8 Delicious Street Food Dishes Of South Korea

Any trip to Korea is absolutely incomplete without dipping under a steamy street-side tent to eat some mystery food, preferably late at night. Street food is extremely popular in Korea. Not in the same way as Twitter-enabled, grilled-cheese food-trucks that are growing with momentum in the U.S., but instead in a much more homey, down-to-earth way. Some foods have their gimmicks, but most of it is classic Korean food.

Carts like the one seen above are a staple of everyday Korean life. I see close to a dozen on my 20-minute walk to work. Called pojangmacha, or just pocha for short, appropriately meaning “covered wagon,” they are large steel carts with a striped vinyl tarp draped over top, forming a tent, which to me really evokes a carnival feel. There are thousands across Seoul, most of which seem to be manned by a surly middle-aged woman. Some are standing room only, others have seating at plastic tables, many have some beer or soju available to go along with your snack. Some carts serve a variety of foods, but most often carts will specialize in a specific dish such as some of the following:

Pronounced closer to tuh-po-key, it is easily the most popular street food in Seoul, with the majority of food carts serving it alongside various fried foods of dubious origin. It’s a serving of rice cakes (tteok) and processed sea food (called odeng) in a spicy red sauce. While it does look a bit unappetizing and messy, the soft, gooey texture of the rice cakes goes along great with the spicy sauce.

Think of it as the little brother of sushi rolls, the difference being that Kimbap features less seafood and more vegetables. Often sold from a small table near a subway station or bus stop in the mornings, they make a great, cheap, filling breakfast or lunch.

Grilled squid
Usually extremely cheap, around 1,000 Korean Won (~$0.88), this is possibly the simplest of all Korean street food. The squid is flattened and grilled, then served up with some soy sauce and mayonnaise. Enjoy it sitting down with some friends drinking some beer on the side of the road.

My personal favorite, it’s basically a pancake with a sweet cinnamon, sugary filling. Unfortunately, hotteok is typically only available seasonally during the colder months; it’s the only reason to look forward to Koreas ridiculously freezing winters.

Huge ice cream cones
Even though it’s currently ridiculously cold in the wintertime, I still see people walking around with ice cream cones. Interestingly, almost all ice cream cones sold on the streets of Seoul are comically tall, a good two feet tall.

Turkish kebabs
Shwarma, doner kebab, gyro … many names, one thing: lamb, veggies and a mayo-like sauce wrapped in a pita. Popular all over the world, they are starting to take hold in Korea. They are becoming increasingly popular, especially as late night food in party areas popular with expats, such as Hongdae and Itaewon.

Tornado potatoes
They take a whole potato, turn it into one giant spiral, then fry it. Yeah, it’s basically just one big French fry, but that’s exactly what makes these things so fun.

American county fair food with a little twist, crazy French fries all over it. Look at it! I almost want to eat a stick of just nuggety French fries by themselves.

With temperatures dropping to well below freezing right now in Korea, it’s a bit hard to believe that there are still people willing to eat street food but surprisingly, there are plenty of people everyday willing to stay out in the cold a little longer in order to get their snack on. So when you come to Korea, make note of these foods and track them down – it won’t be too difficult.

Be sure to check out more on Korean culture from the other Kimchi-ite posts here!

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer, Flickr user Sung Sook, Flickr user Augapfel]