Culture Shock You may Experience in Korea
When I was in the U.S. I received an invitation from one of my American friends. When it was almost time to have dinner, I sat around a table with my friend and her family. There were two big dishes right in the middle of the table, and I totally had no idea what I would do with an empty plate in front of me. When dinner began, my friend started passing the two big dishes around the table and each one picked as much food as they want. My turn came and I just tried to follow exactly what others did. In Korea, we share food all together without using individual plates. So it was new and surprising to me that I had to use my own dish in the U.S. Like what I experienced, most people who travel abroad must have chances to be surprised or embarrassed to see certain unique cultures of certain countries. We call this culture shock. That you come to Korea, you probably experience culture shock, too. The definition of culture shock is the anxiety and uncomfortable feeling towards the changes when you encounter in unfamiliar situations while living in environment different from your own country. You may go through the feeling of discomfort and even disgust when you suffer from culture shock. So, if you have a mind to visit or live in Korea, you should know several things about Korea in advance to prevent yourself from a huge culture shock. Here we have four tips for you!
● Why do Koreans use toilet paper on the table?
You may be shocked when you see toilet paper in the living room or even on the meal table. You may be a lot more shocked if some Korean friends suggest that you use the toilet paper or wipe you off out of affection or kindness. In Korea, toilet paper is used anywhere in houses, offices and classrooms. Please don't think it is dirty. Each culture has different ideas about what is clean or not clean. So don't decide that it is dirty but try to accept that difference with an open heart.
● Why do Koreans eat all together from the same dish?
It may be really shocking and strange for you that Koreans eat all together from the same dish without using any individual plates. Koreans share all food together. For Koreans, having a meal together is not only eating but also sharing mind together and getting closer to each other. If you feel uncomfortable using the same dish together, you should ask someone to give you another plate beforehand. They will be happy to do that. Furthermore, these days the western-style eating culture has been spreading over Korea. So Koreans truly understand that eating from the same dish together can give negative impression to westerners and even some other Koreans. So, do not hesitate to say "Can I have my own dish?" before eating. Or if you are open-minded enough, you can try to eat one meal together like Koreans to be close to them and to experience new culture.
● Why do Koreans ask so many personal questions?
It is natural to some Westerners to say hi to strangers with a smile. Some Korean people may misunderstand that you like them. You are saying "Hi~" to them whenever you see them and they think that you are interested in them. Then they may start to ask some questions to get to know you better. Many Koreans are really thoughtful and caring people so if they get to know someone, they want to become closer by asking about the person's personal life. For instance, you may have questions such as "How old are you?", "Do you have a religion?", or "Do you have a boy or a girl friend?". Do not be embarrassed! Koreans regards asking these kinds of questions as a way of getting to know you more closely and being a friend.
Especially Koreans care so much about a person's age. Korea maintains the strong hierarchical relationship between the olds and youngs. If Koreans know that you are older than them, they will treat you in a more respectful way. Therefore, the question "how old are you?" originates from cultural and historical reasons.
● Why are there so many fancy cars and luxurious-looking ladies despite the economic difficulty?
Most Koreans care very much about what others think about them and how they look to others. So they try to dress up and look nice to keep themselves up. We call this 체면(Chae Myeon). Chae Myeon is a kind of "saving face". It can be translated as "dignity" in English. Koreans think they should save their face and keep dignity with others. It might sound a little unreasonable but it's a part of Korean culture. Some guys even get loans to buy fancy cars or to buy the latest cell phones. Also, in downtown, there are so many luxurious-looking women who look like fashion models. Another thing that foreigners can find surprising in Korea is women looking at a mirror and putting on make-up in public places, like in a bus, a subway or even at table. In Korea, it is common because every girl wants to look cool any place she is. Many Koreans want to keep their dignity in any place.
As you can see, Koreans are probably somewhat different from you and your life style. However, remember that, there are cultural differences all over the world. Each difference comes from historical and social reasons, so they should be considered carefully with an open mind. Please try to accept the differences of Korean culture with your open heart the way they are. Then you will meet new world, Korea and the warmest-hearted Korean people.