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]

Five ways to avoid a chatty passenger

You usually know within seconds whether the person next to you will leave you alone. The talkative types may wait until they have their bags stored, though some will start even before they’ve tossed their carry-ons into the overhead bins. From before the door shuts to well after touchdown, chatty passengers can consume your flight, making your books, magazines and iPods irrelevant.

Some people love this. Stick two talkers together, and they’ll reach baggage claim the best of friends. The unfortunate pairing of one of these passengers with the type that prefers to be left alone can make the flight a living hell for the latter, with severity linked to duration. If you like nothing more than to occupy yourself while flying, here are five steps you can take to be left in silence.

1. Keep your magazine in your pocket
A talker can strike while you’re fishing through your bag for reading material. Keep your magazine handy, and you narrow your neighbor’s window of opportunity. Roll it and put it in your back pocket, that way you can pull it out in fractions of a second. Open it while you’re sitting down to avoid making eye contact.

2. Act like a workaholic
Stare at your Blackberry and shake your head. Mutter to yourself about “that asshole, Steve.” When you have to turn off your electronic devices, pull out a notepad and start scribbling furiously. The passenger next to you may try to strike up a conversation, but you can reply, “Sorry, I have to deal with this.” Don’t give any details: they can only lead to more questions.

3. Look exhausted
Merely waiting to sleep isn’t enough. A chatty passenger will try to keep you awake. You have to look weary (the prospect of having to listen to this person should help this along) and in desperate need of some shut-eye. If you have to say something to the person, just mention that you didn’t get to sleep much last week … and that the coming week will be worse. Then, close your eyes and tilt your head. Don’t give in to any offers to converse.

4. Stick to short answers
Try to telegraph your lack of interest in talking through one-word answers and grunts. Usually, a single word in reply to an open-ended question drives the message home. After you answer each question, close your eyes and turn your head away, or lift your magazine or book higher. Make it clear through body language that you have no interest in continuing the discussion.

5. Be direct
If you’ve tried to be polite and sought to avoid conflict without the desired result, it’s time to get tough. If you don’t like to be rude, think of it this way – you tried, and your neighbor is the one acting inappropriately. Be firm: “I’m not interested in talking. I really need to [pick one: sleep, work, etc.].” Sometimes, the direct approach is the only one that will work.

Guilt-free vacation, part II: free your inner workaholic

If you haven’t read the earlier installments in this series, check them out:

Once you’re up to speed, check out the latest round of tips below. Here are even more ways to work yourself to the bone while you are (supposedly) on vacation while minimizing the impact on your family.

1. Bribery
Hopefully, you earn per hour more than your spouse can spend. Hand over the credit cards, and unleash your family on the mall, local shops or spa. Bite the bullet.

2. Encourage relaxation
Suggest that your spouse take a long bath or shower. Emphasize the great smell of the soaps and shampoo. Then, use that time to scratch your workaholic itch. If all goes well, you could buy yourself an hour with your laptop.

3. Bigger is not better
Devices are easier to hide than laptops. If you have an iPhone or Blackberry that’s hooked into your corporate e-mail account, take advantage of it.

3a. Leave the laptop at home
This is easy if you move all your necessary work files to your handheld device. Then, you can make a point that you made the profound sacrifice of not taking your laptop with you.

4. Phone ringers = busted
When the phone rings, you know you’re going to get caught. Vibrate is better, but you still run the risk of being heard. Instead, set your phone to silent and look for missed calls. Then, check your voicemail while you’re in the bathroom.

5. Read your voicemail
Voicemail transcription applications like PhoneFusion, Youmail and Simulscribe solve the problem of having to buy time to disappear and make a call. Reading rather than dialing and listening is much less intrusive.

Good luck out there, and don’t get caught! Do you have any other tips? Leave a comment, and help your fellow workaholics.

Guilt-free vacation, part I: free your inner workaholic

If you haven’t read about how to screw-off and look good while you’re on vacation, check out yesterday’s article. This is what you’re up against. The workaholic invests even vacation time in career success, and to look like that white-collar stud, you need to deliver beyond the appearances of your lazy, poseur coworkers.

But, you will.

When you get to the office, you see opportunities rather than work. You feel high when you pull the proverbial bunny from a hat. You love this shit. You live by it. You need it.

Your family, on the other hand, has no interest in your latest corporate conquest while you’re supposed to be playing water volleyball with them. They get angry because you can’t get away from your Blackberry. They love you, and they want to spend time with you.

So, you need a plan.

The next two days are for you. The Gadling team has come up with some amazing ways to work your ass off while you’re supposed to be relaxing without incurring wrath from spouse or child. As always, leave a comment and share your ideas. There’s got to be some great stuff out there.


1. Use the plane wisely
This one’s obvious but important. While you are en route to your destination, you have a rare chance to get away with working when there are no competing priorities. Use it.

2. Build layovers into your travel plans
This is free work time! Pick up a wireless connection, and plug into a power outlet while the kids find an ancient Pac-Man machine. Bring plenty of quarters with you.

3. Get up early; go to bed late
When nobody else is awake, you aren’t depriving them of your time. Block of an hour or so at the beginning and end of every day. You’ll be able to crank out some great stuff for the office, and nobody in the room with you will care.

4. Piss frequently
When you dash into the bathroom, you have a few minutes to pluck away at your Blackberry. Drink a lot of water to add credibility. The easiest lies to maintain are actually truths.

5. Smoker, non-smoking room
Not only do they smell better, non-smoking rooms give you a chance to step outside for a bit. Bring your laptop. To get the most from this approach, also bring a cigar … a big one.

6. Waiting in line
Need to kill 45 minutes at Disney World? Take a call; work your Blackberry; review a document. There’s nothing else to do anyway. Bonus points: time your arrival at a long line to coincide with a conference call.

7. Set expectations up front
If there are some pressing issues at the office that you just can’t avoid, prepare the family. Let your spouse know that you may have to duck out for a bit. Be as specific as possible (e.g., provide conference call times). Don’t get greedy, though. Keep the calls to a minimum.

8. Look like you’re relaxing
Print documents you’ll need and bring them to the pool or beach. Tuck them in a magazine. Vanity Fair is thick enough that you can “lose” almost anything in it.

9. Forward your e-mail
If you can’t access your corporate e-mail account from the road, have it forwarded to your personal account. Let your colleagues know that they can reach you this way and to expect to hear from you using a different address.

10. Make all day “think time”
Take notes on your projects before you leave. Review them in the morning, and take the entire day to mull them over. You can be productive without looking like you’re working.

If you need more than this, fear not. Tomorrow, we’ll bring a few more tips to you. Before you know it, your family will think you can cut your ties to the office, and none of your coworkers will realize you aren’t at your desk.

Have you seen yesterday’s post yet?

Fear-free vacation, part II: look busy while you recharge

If you haven’t read the first 10 suggestions for looking busy without actually working on vacation, check out yesterday’s post. If you’ve already been there, let’s keep pushing ahead. We have even more for you today, thanks to the slothful talents of me and the rest of the Gadling team. Leave it to a group of bloggers to find so many ways to look hardcore without actually lifting a finger that it takes two days to get it all out. Many thanks, in particular, to Scott Carmichael, who looked like he was working overtime to show you how to look like you’re working overtime.

1. Conference calls make you look good
Try to attend a few conference calls while you’re on the road. Dial in, and put your phone on mute. Light up a cigar, pour a drink, or lounge on the beach with a book. At the beginning of the call, mention that you’re in a public place (because you’re on vacation) and can’t contribute too much because you don’t want to broadcast proprietary information.

2. Phone around the office
Randomly call people with whom you work about things you’d normally discuss with them. Don’t raise any heavy issues – stick to quick questions.


3. Pick the right background noise
If the person on the other end of the phone can hear the beach or the half-naked coed from whose taut stomach you’re about to lick some alcoholic concoction, you’re making a mistake. Turn off the jets for a second, and call from your in-room hot tub.

4. Instant message games
If the company uses an internal instant message system, be logged on as much as possible. When you leave your room, put up an “unavailable” message that doesn’t reflect your vacation. “Grabbing a quick bite” and “back in a few” are just vague enough.

5. Put social media to work for you
Do any of your coworkers follow you on Twitter? Pop an occasional update like “Just realized what this report needs!”

6. Craft an effective “out of office” message
Mention that you’ll be out – give a time zone but not necessarily a location – and mention that you’ll be checking e-mail and voicemail periodically. Provide details on how to reach you “in an emergency.”

Have you taken a look at yesterday’s post yet?