1) Spitting is something that I witnessed every day while living in Korea. Spitting is not something that you think about before moving to another country, and in the grand scheme of things, let’s be honest, this is not a big deal. However, it can gross you out if it’s not something that you’re accustomed to. While I did my best to respect cultural differences while living in Korea, this was something that I kind of got used to, but never enjoyed. Every time I stepped outside of my apartment back into the real world, the sidewalks were littered with spit, and there would be numerous people hacking stuff up as I walked by. Early on, I’d try to avoid stepping in it, as there were variations of colors and thickness, but eventually gave up on that. What really grossed me out, was that the spit would freeze on the side walks during winter!
2) Crossing your legs in front of older people, or your superiors can be seen as rude in Korea. I didn’t learn about this until well into my time there, and I’m not sure as to why this is considered rude. I’ve heard stories of friends who witnessed older people getting upset at younger people who were sitting across from them on the subway, with crossed legs.
3) Having your hands inside of your pockets in front of older people/superiors can also be seen as rude. This is quite different to American culture, and we don’t think twice about doing it. However, doing this in formal situations, in front of elders, superiors, etc. can come off as having bad manners, and disrespectful.
4) The last cultural difference that I want to mention has to do with food! When having a meal with those who are older than you, or your superiors, it is rude to start eating before they do. Once they begin to eat, then everyone else may start eating. Unless he or she gives the okay to eat before they do. It’s polite to wait until they start eating. There is a high regard for elders and superiors, so this is just another way to be respectful while in their presence. I’ve witnessed this first hand on many occasions during staff dinners. There was even an order to where people sat. Those higher up on the hierarchy scale, like the principle, vice principle, etc., all sat at one table. I never sat at the principles table unless he invited me.
Although I did as much research as I could before going to Korea, nothing trumps going somewhere and experiencing it for yourself. There were other things that I was unaware of before moving, but these were some lesser known things. As a foreigner, Koreans did not expect me to know all of their cultural customs, however, once I became aware of various customs, I did my best to follow them.
Below is a video I did a few years ago on the spitting in Korea, because it really did bother me that much ya’ll!