I had a fantastic Thanksgiving break, surprising my younger sister with a short but fun visit to Seoul, where she is an English teacher. I had been to Asia before but to be honest, had never been interested in South Korea. My parents were there this year and loved it, so I figured I would too. As always, my favorite part about my trips is to learn things about other cultures, and so far, Tokyo had been the place where I experienced the most cultural shock -and I loved it.
While I was in South Korea for less than a week, and I cannot say I know much about the culture or the region, these things are what I experienced, and how I perceived them – I am not trying to emphasize stereotypes.
- ‘White tanning‘ is in. It is actually a thing, and I saw a couple places that offered the service. It seems that people in Seoul are really into fair skin. I struggled for years trying all kinds of tanning products, actual tanning beds (huge mistake) and more than enough sunburns to get a bit closer to the California girl sun-kissed look, all resulting in failure and painful redness. I now accept and embrace my lack of melanin and actually use high SPF makeup and creams to protect my skin.. while in the US I struggle to find makeup with SPF of 50 or higher, in SK it was the standard in beauty products.
2. Their street food is delicious. This is not a cultural shock itself but a surprise – since we don’t have that in the US (but we do in Mexico, and oh do I miss it). Most of the street food is fried (#comidagorda) and it was awesome. I tried a Korean pancake with the shape of the “chocolate ice-cream emoji” (a.k.a. poop emoji) and it was amazing, on the top of my list of street food now. They have chestnuts, fried sweet potatoes, mochi covered fruit, and other stuff that I am not even sure what it was.
3. They like it hot. While I was there, the weather was around 0*C / 34*F most of the time. It snowed a couple times and I thought my fingers would start falling, so it was pretty nice to get inside a cab or a store to warm up a bit. To our surprise, it was not warm inside, it was always boiling hot! You would immediately start taking off all the layers because the air temperature they like is too high. Very different from the US where you get into Vons and it is freezing.
4. The beauty standard. I saw more beauty stores than markets and I even came back with over 10 different facial rejuvenating masks. I don’t know what their secret is but it is indeed hard to guess a woman’s age over there- most of them have beautiful skin. They also have lots of plastic surgery centers, and I saw an ad for it at the subway implying that competition was tough in Korea so plastic surgery might as well boost your success chances.
5. Their shopping culture. Instead of Black Friday, they have K-day (which happens to fall on the same weekend) which has actually pretty great deals even on designer stuff that you would never see on sale here. However, while they have amazing clothes and things to buy, the sales reps would always follow me around the store and it made me feel quite uncomfortable, as I like to take my time to make decisions when shopping. This happened everywhere while I was there, and while it is probably more of a ‘service’ to be available for any questions, I was not used to it. By the way, their stores are huge and amazing, so the shopping culture is really strong. We went to a handful of malls and there were still a lot left to go to,but we were so overwhelmed with the size of the malls that we decided to cut on our time spent window-shopping.
6. No Justin Bieber, no Kardashians, no US Weekly. They listen to K-Pop exclusively, and have their own celebrities. This was nice for a change.
7. ‘Soju’ think you can drink? Every day we would stumble across a very drunk Seoulian. Very, very drunk. Their drink of choice is really strong, and with all the amazing bars and clubs there the party scene is there to stay.
8. Work all day, all night. Competition is fierce, so people work very hard for long hours and students spend most of their day in classes and doing schoolwork. This I learned from my sister, but I found it interesting to see that offices had their lights on until pretty late at night with people inside still working.
Conclusion: I loved the experience of going to Seoul, and my favorite part of it was the amount of cool restaurants, bars, and coffee places that they had. You can find any kind of food (I ate fish tacos one night) and with a city as big as Seoul you can’t get bored, they have lots of cool neighborhoods to visit. #hikorea