In no particular order:
Bars and restaurants
One of the worst things is going to restaurants and bars on your own. Koreans have a hatred of doing things on their own. Don’t expect to be welcomed by other Koreans when you go to restaurants as a foreigner, they will completely avoid any interaction with you. Although I enjoy eating Korean food, the pressure of sitting in a restaurant being glowered at is too much sometimes. The bottom line: Korea can be very lonely place for a single person.
Aaahh, the Korean language. When I was England I was serious about studying Korean. I took lessons, went on language exchanges and used apps to improve my Korean. THe worst thing is when you have a conversation in Korean and people ignore you, or laugh, or answer you in English. I have learned very little Korean here and I am convinced my Korean is going backwards.
Wow, is dating hard work here. Its not that dating is unpleasant, it’s mroe the attitude Korean women have towards dating foreigners. For example, a common excuse is “I can’t speak English so I won’t date anyone who isn’t Korean.” It’s hard to approach someone and simply ask them out, at least, in my experience.
I visited the Korean palace in Seoul. Apart from a nice garden and a pond, there was little else to see. As for traditional culture, Korean’s traditional music, pansoori consists of a drum being banged loudly for half an hour whilst a woman makes a noise like she is being slowly impaled. Apart from concerts and Koreans wearing Hanbok, I see very little signs of traditional culture here. At least in Japan you can easily see kimonos and visit traditional restaurants.
When people talk about Korean Wave, Hallyu, it’s K-pop that often comes up. Now, I like K-pop. I think some of it has been good fun. What I don’t like is that for most people K-pop is the only music they will hear in Korea. There are some great rock and Indie bands but due to the large record companies that produce and distribute music its very difficult to hear anything but the Melon 100.
Korea has the most miserable work culture in the world. But at least Koreans can talk to each other and share food at work. As a foreigner, I feel excluded from most work activities. For some reason, it doesn’t occur to my colleagues to ask me any questions about my life or pay any interest in what I am doing, or invite me to lunch. Although many Koreans teach English, they would much rather talk to their colleagues in Korean than speak English to me.
Encountering old people is one of the hardest aspects of life here. For example, there are seats marked for use for the elderly, one of the many areas where old people have privileges over everyone else. It’s quite common for older Koreans to take up every seat in a carriage while young people who have been working all day must stand. Korea has a real problem with age. There are places where you won’t see anyone under thirty. At other times, you can visit an outside market and it will be mostly be seniors. It’s hard to reconcile the behaviours of older Koreans with younger people. It’s a problem that is going to get worse as Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world.
Clothes and fashion
I try not to buy many clothes here. It’s hard to find clothes of very good quality. Unfortunately Koreans have a mania for new things. It’s not socially acceptable to wear old clothes here. everything has to be brand new and up-to-the minute. I can’t deny that Koreans are well-dressed, stylish people, but the desire to follow the latest fashions seems exhausting.
This is certainly the least serious problem because there’s always the option of simply turning the TV off. There are typically three types of popular shows here:
1: Lifestyle and travel shows. A group of foreign tourists visit Korea and try kimchi, wear hanbok, etc. I can’t watch without cringing, but there are at least five programmes I can see which follow this theme.
2. Wacky and zany variety programs, the most popular is Running Man. They sometimes feature famous Americans such as Tom Cruise and Steven Youn.
In the last category are dramas. The good ones are ‘The Good Wife”, “The Return” and “Mr Sunshine.” There are also Korean soap operas which usually revolve around family relationships. A very common trope is a mother-in-law who criticises her daughter for not being a good wife, or making bad food or something. These are the least interesting programs on TV. There are several news programs which seem to be exclusively focused on domestic news. Which brings me to…….
Attitude to foreigners
As many have pointed out, Koreans have a strange attitude. On the one hand, I think they want foreigners to know about Korean culture. I see that they have a lot of information about Korean attractions on line. On the other hand, a foreigner could easily come to the conclusion that Koreans don’t want to have any interaction with foreigners unless it involves money. Come on Koreans, you can do better!