5 Korean Cultures That May Shock You

In the crowded Myeongdong where you can see the vibrant culture of Korea

Experiencing a different culture always comes with a challenge. It may be fun and interesting but oftentimes it’s shocking. When you grow up in one particular ethnicity, it will be pretty normal if you’ll feel uneasy and awkward when you expose yourself to different culture. As a Filipino living in Korea for more than 2 years now, I am still coping with a lot of culture shocks.

Philippines and Korea are both Asian countries but each has its own share of differences. Some things in Korea may appear common but there are also unusual habits and/or traits that you can only see in Korea. But just because it appears strange to you doesn't mean you judge and despise their culture for being unique and eccentric. I think it’s easier to embrace every culture shock and make fun out of it rather than trying to avoid it. After all, it’s part of a learning process. The key is to get use to it until you can finally shoo the shock away.

Here are some of culture shocks you may encounter(and I have encountered) when you go here in Korea. Whether you’ll come here to visit, to work or to live, you can take note of this list for your own perusal in the future.

1. Wreaths

I think one of the first few culture shocks I encountered was seeing wreaths in various celebrations. In Philippines, you can only see wreaths during a funeral. In fact, it symbolizes death or mourning in our culture. However, I was so shocked when I saw people displaying wreaths when a new business is opened, or if there’s a wedding, or if somebody is celebrating an anniversary. Just try to take a walk along Myeongdong or Namdaemun or any big markets in Korea and you will more likely see wreaths display all over the places. Don’t make the same mistake I made, don’t think somebody is mourning over a death because it could just be an opening of new business.

2. The Korean men affection

Guys wrapping each others arms while walking is a common scenario in Korea

I am from a culture where seeing two women holding hands or giving each other a kiss on the cheek is pretty normal and acceptable. But, that won’t give the same impression for men. Like the western culture, a guy being touchy-feely to other guy maybe suspected to be gay. Guys could just shake each other hands or pat each other in the back, but as far as experience is concerned, Korean men tend to be touchy. How many times a Korean ahjussi(adult male) held my hand feeling it as if we were close? Here in Korea, exchanging of sweet nothings and putting arms around another guy’s body are extremely common. A guy can be intimate with another guy as a sign of deeper friendship. They are even comfortable seeing each other naked. I once tried going to a public bath and I was shocked when I saw guys cleaning each other naked body, or play around with group of friends in a bath tub naked! Then I learned later on that it was pretty normal and in fact significant in Korean culture.

3. The squatter

Korea has an advance technology. Their buildings are made of modern designs and the people are so techie. Almost everything in Korea is automated and very sophisticated. But if there’s one thing in the past that made its way through to this generation, I’ll say it’s the squatty potty. A squatter is a small basin made of porcelain where you need to literally squat over to “do your thing”.  The first time I saw this kind of toilet bowl was in a subway station. I was shocked because I don’t know what to do. So I decided to not let my stomach upset if I go around Korea especially if I am in an old building because the odd of having a squatty potty in the bathroom is big.

An example of squatty potty
Photo credit to Kaleena's Kaleidoscope

For some reason, some Koreans especially the old ones are more comfortable using this than the usual toilet bowl we have today. Apparently, it’s good for the health when you do squat position during the “you know what I mean”.

4. Free hugs! Anyone?

Free hugs is becoming a big trend in Korea nowadays. You can see them teenagers, boys and girls, holding big placard offering Free hugs to anybody. This maybe not new to some culture because I can see some of this trend especially in the Western Culture, but I guess Koreans are taking it to a higher level because they don’t only stand to offer free hugs, they also go around offering to anybody like selling hot cake in the market. To some extent, they go to public transportations and subways to ambush everybody with hugs. It’s weird but sweet. One time, I tried to join these two boys offering free hugs to the public. I hugged a lot of ahjummas (adult women).

Free hug in the subway

5. Pali Pali culture

This is for those who want to come here to work. When you are new to working in Korea, you may need to give it more time to adjust because you don’t only need to adjust to people or the working environment, you also need to adjust to this pali pali culture or “Hurry culture”. Don’t get intimated when your boss will tell you to work as fast and as hard as you can because for them, this is customary.  If you can slack off to work in your own country, here in Korea, you’ll probably find it hard to do that same habit of yours. They are so workaholic and every single moment at work is important. For them, productivity is essential. No wonder why they are so progressive. I can’t even count how many times I was told the magic word “pali pali”. At first, it really annoys me, but it somehow makes you more effective and productive.

These are just 5 of the many culture shocks you may encounter when you go here in Korea. I’ll tell you, there are still hundreds of those weird customs and they are inevitable. Whether you like it or not, you’ll get to encounter it once you’re here. But I guess that’s where the fun comes. These shocking experiences made me realize how diverse the culture of Korea and for that, I love the country and it’s culture including all the eccentricities even more.


  1. Wreath for me is already ordinary here in Davao, I see it every time there is a store opening or launching of events.

    The Squatty Potty is an ordinary thing for me, because we use this one in our old ancestral house. And you're right, squatty potty is more safe and healthy because it is a stool to help you poop better.

    The other thing, hmmm, we all know that Filipino's are conservative, that is why when we see two men holding hands, iba na sa ating paningin.

    1. really? people now use wreaths in opening ceremony of businesses in the PH? WOW, I was so detached with what is happening in the Philippines now.

    2. Yes, just like this >>>> https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/p480x480/11156147_405605976285370_3552174278000731466_n.jpg?oh=55cbce1c84e3610de62322f5cd301bcb&oe=55DBA798&__gda__=1436296616_696bb946aed67994beae219f7724deb9

  2. Oh wow I really did not know that Koreans are open to men to men relationships and are okay to be seen in public. In most Asian countries, this is not widely accepted.

    1. no, men to men relationship, like in any other countries, is a taboo here in Korea. Men are just so touchy with other men but just in a level of friendship.

  3. I also saw similar squater in some public places in China. I'm just glad that hotels have regular toilets. It's nice to understand the culture of korea here.


  4. This is such a fun read, I have to comment on each item hahaha...

    1. Many establishments here are actually using wreaths for their opening already, so this no longer surprises me.

    2. Though we are already aware of same sex relationships here, I admit, this is still new to me. Maybe it has something to do with Pinoys machismo, or Pinoy's religion that men here are still not that open when it comes to displaying affection.

    3. We have those toilet on the floor, in a public restroom in Baguio! Hahaha...

    4. Free hugs, hmmm... Nice idea but no thanks.

    5. I'm not going to work in South Korea then because I don't like being hurried hahaha...

    1. Again, Korean men don't need to be in an intimate relationship with each other to become clingy. It's just their way of bonding or showing affection to a friend. In fact, there's always a debate here, if a guy has a problem, he is more likely to go to a guy friend than his wife.

  5. Wow. Squatter. hahaha. It reminds me of the cr of our old house in Bohol. I can't believe that Koreans use that. ;)

  6. Not a fan of squatty potties as well. Saw some in Singapore. As to men being intimate with each other publicly, well, why not? But still, there's awkwardness maybe because of cultural differences.

  7. i love KOREA. i've been in SoKor last april 6 to 10 and i was amazed by the beauty of Korea. The weather, culture & tradition, scenery, cleanliness and the Koreans (they are well discipline). Actually im looking job openings if there are... if not im hoping to be there next spring :)


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