Korea: What Grinds my gears

Let me share with you the TOP TEN things that really grind my gears about Korea! If you look back through all my posts about te last year you will a whole lot of positivity praising Korean food, events, festivals, sights and of course the people. But every diamond has a flaw, so here is my list of 10 things that REALLY frustrate me about living in the land of “morning calm”.

10.Why can’t I get a decent sandwich?

I mean is it really too much to ask? All I want is to walk into a grocery store like I would back home, walk up to the deli counter and get a freshly made chicken and stuffing baguette. Or a ham and cheese sandwich. On bread that isn’t full of sugar. With cheese that doesn’t taste like plastic and with some chicken that hasn’t been DEEP FRIED!! Come on Korea, is it really THAT hard to produce a half decent sandwich? I’m begging you!

9. Korean Ajosshi’s asking if I’m RUSSIAN!

Now normally I would have nothing against someone calling me Russian. I mean Vodka is part of my staple diet and Russian ladies are known to be very tall, slim a beautiful but when Korean Ajosshis ask if our Russian they are in fact asking if you are a prostitute. This is thanks to many young russian women making their way to South Korea for this specific purpose. Last week I was with Samy in an elevator and this old ajosshis walks in, looks me up and down, then turns to Samy with a dirty grin and says “Ruiske?!” THAT really grinds my gears!!

8. Korean taxi drivers

First off I “thought” this was how the taxi business works. Customer hails taxi, hops in and taxi driver brings them wherever they wish to go. They pay and all is good in the world. Obviously Korean taxi drivers never got the memo! You hail taxi, then tell them where you want to go then they kick you out of their cab cause it’s not convenient for them or they tr and double the price of the normal fair just because you are a foreigner and obviously have the $$$ sign stamped on your forehead. They have ripped me off, over charged me, brought me to the wrong destination and often plain refused to bring me anywhere many times. They also drive like maniacs. As do Korean bus drivers, but thats another story!

7. Shoes shoes shoes

I love shoes. I love shoes with all my heart. So moving to a country for a year that does not stock my shoe size was far from a wise decision! With a population of over 50 million and 100,000’s shoes stores on every corner, every train station, every shopping mall; it is depressing to never be able to buy any shoes. It wouldn’t be SO bad if this were not also the case for clothes. I am both too wide and too tall (my legs too long, my arms too long, my hips too wide) to ever fit into all those cute Korean clothes. What’s even worse is I will never know for sure as Korean shops are too small to have changing rooms so you either chance your luck and buy it or get the hell out.

6. Eating out alone is IMPOSSIBLE

Sometimes after along day working, I really don’t feel like cooking and just feel like going out for dinner. If my friends are feeling the same, we can all go out to galbi and have a nice night out. However, If I wish to do this alone my choices suddenly become very limited! In Korea eating is a social thing. All the food is shared. You don’t get individual plates as most dishes are placed in the centre of the table, and you cook your own meat at the table. It’s like your own little private kitchen. Here lies the problem; restaurant owners don’t like giving away one of their “private kitchens” if only one person is eating so even if there are free tables available they will always turn you away. This can be very disheartening and is something that really frustrates me. If I want to eat alone in Munsan I’m pretty much limited to getting a take-out pizza or eating a mingin seaweed and rice kimbap roll. Korea just isn’t made for loners!

5.My bank is the worst bank in the world

They don’t “deal” with Ireland so when I transfer money home they send it via the USA leaving me to pay all the exorbitant currency exchange and bank charges. They speak crap English, hardly ever understand what I’m looking for AND always seem to “lose” my money! Okay they finD it a week later but SERIOUSLY how can you just lose people’s money. Moving to Korea? Stay away from IBK!

4. Ajummas

Ajumma is the Korean word for any married woman or woman over the age of 35/4o.  These little ladies deserve a post of their own. While I respect that they portray this powerful image of women, I hate their pushiness, disregard for others and the fact that they are downright RUDE. They go out of their way just to push and shove you out of the way when getting on to buses and trains, steal your seat, elbow you, skip the queue in restrooms when your BURSTING to go and constantly stare at you for no apparent reason. I think everyone in Korea has a crazy ajumma story!

3. The Korean Private Education System

I feel silly writing about this considering as a teacher I’m technically part of it, but it really frustrates me how over worked young children are here. Kids here often go to school from 8am until 8pm jumping from Maths school to English school to History school, 5 days a week. They have no time to just “be kids”. Also working in a private school which needs to be looked upon as a business rather than a school can be really frustrating. Kids are moved up levels just to keep parents happy, even if the kids are unable to do the work. students who may be dyslexic or suffer from other learning disabilities are thrown in classes with other students just so the hogwon directors can keep receiving their tuition ee instead of recommending they attend special schools that will be more beneficial to their learning. Treating Kid’s education, and if you want Kid’s lives as a business opportunity is really awful.

2. Cosmetic Surgery

I recently wrote a whole post on this topic which you can read here. It really upsets me to see children as young as 14 or 15 obsessed with their body image and already planning to get cosmetic surgery. Korean women are already SO beautiful I really don’t understand why they feel the need to keep changing their image.

1. Dirty, rotten toilets

I wrote a post about this when I first got to Korea, mainly comparing western toilets to the squat toilets which the mainly us here. Now after living here for a year squat toilets are n longer an issue. The issue is with how dirty  toilets here are. In Korea, you are not allowed put your used toilet paper in the toilet, so you must instead place in the usually over flowing trash can next to the toilet. If public toilets have not been cleaned that day this “dirty, used paper” can be found all over the ground and often trailing out of the toilet. As it is uncommon to see women smoking in public, they all sneak off to the restroom where their trail of cigarette butts can be found. Also evidence of Koreans love of SPITTING can also  seen here, with spit dripping down the walls or on the floor. I will not not be sad to ay goodbye to Korean Toilets!

So that is what GRINDS MY GEARS about Korea, wha about you readers, anything to add?


16 thoughts on “Korea: What Grinds my gears

  1. What grinds MY gears is when Europeans visit one asian country and see that eating is a social activity where food is shared, and then assume this must be the case anytime you visit any asian restaurant back home.

    Like if you went to a burger joint with some friends, would you demand that they split their burger in two so you could share it? lol.

    1. I get ya Roy, would be pretty bizarre alright! Its a nice thing to do…AT TIMES! Like ordering lots of dishes at a thai or indian and sharing everything but most of the time im just happy ordering for myself and everyone else can just pee off lol…maybe im a little too selfish with my food to live in asia!

  2. Hi! I always waiting your posting about Korean’s life since i start to living here since 4 months ago. No doubt for point no. 6: eating out alone is imposibble, the choices to eating alone is limited and if you go to ‘sharing restaurant’ by yourself, people will starring at you strengly. You right, Korea just isn’t made for loners! 😀

    1. Hey! Thanks for always reading, its nice to know people like what I write! How are you liking Korea so far? I often wanted to go out for a decent meal when i first arrived but used to end up always going home with pizza(which is why i now have to go to the gym like crazy to lods the llbs!!) So frustrating!

  3. I think eating alone is much easier in Seoul than in a smaller city. True, galbi restaurants probably wouldn’t want me, but I know a bunch of little mom n’ pop type places where I can get mandu, kalguksu, bibimbap, various jigaes, etc., and the owners are really sweet, recognize me when I come back and even set out more of my fav side dishes.

    But the thing I dislike most is the passive aggressive behavior that occurs at my workplace. It has me literally crying for the U.S. As a important aside, after I broke my foot in the winter, for 4 months, it hurt every single time I moved that foot or placed weight on it. Extreme pain that the doctors thought would need surgery to correct. It’s better now, though still sore at times. But I’m still in trouble for it because recently, I was told that I was “sad and depressive after breaking foot” and that this was a “bad attitude” for me to have “because IT WAS UPSETTING THE OTHER WORKERS.” Gee, I hope my months of pain, in which none of them ever offered to help me, wasn’t too hard on them. It must have been so difficult to watch me struggle every day. The poor things must be traumatized. This was what I was lectured about. And well, now — NOW I have a bad attitude for real.

    1. Sorry to hear about your foot. Ya they really dont get the pain concept. I mean it has 2 contrasting sides because they send you to the hospital over ANYTHING even if its just a sore throat or cough, but then when it comes to actually taking time off or struggling with your work due to illness they have no leeway. Taking time off work is really frowned upon here, even if you are dying in bed sick! I work in a hogwon where sick days off or something I can only ever dream about, because if im missing my kids will actually have no teacher for the day so i dont have much choice!!

  4. Hey, at least its almost over. What grinds my gears after living there for a year. Even though its obvious that the Koreans think I am one of them and will try to converse with me after I have told them I cannot speak there language, they still try to talk to me. OR when I’m with my waegookin friends and they know I speak English, they talk to my friends instead and when they want to know something about me, instead of asking me, they will talk at me. I agree with you on the subject about the education system, these kids do need to be just kids. They also lack a lot of emotional support, hence the high suicide rates. My friend worked at a high school and one of her students jumped out of a 7th floor.

    1. Wow thats so sad about the student, Christine. They say Korean students are the unhappiest students in the world and that korea has one of the highest rates of suicide. There is just too much pressure on young people to study and do well. And even pressure on adults to excel in the workplace and pressure on women to look beautiful. Such a hard life really. If there is one thing I can really APPRECIATE about Korea its the people as a whole and how amazingly tolerant they are of their difficult lives and the pressures put on them daily.

  5. Of course you’re entitled to your own opinions, but I thought I’d just throw in my two cents as a fellow Western expat/English teacher. I hope you don’t take offense.

    1) Yeah, I have seen some dirty rotten toilets while living in Korea but a lot of them are also really nice, big, private, and clean. I would say it’s usually one of the two extremes, but in my experience most toilets in restaurants, hotels, airports, and even subway stations are way nicer than their Western counterparts.

    2) Regarding cosmetic surgery, I would say that it’s more saddening than maddening. I would also say that it’s not just Korea. A desire to look whiter/more Western is a universal phenomenon and can generally be observed amongst most non-white ethnic groups.

    3) I agree with you about the education system. It’s totally messed up. I will say the results are impressive (Korea ranks among the highest in terms of educational achievement) but it indeed comes at a huge cost and as an English teacher I see firsthand how miserable the kids are.

    4) You can’t make that generalization about all ajummas. Jostling or bumping into someone (especially if they are younger) is not really considered rude here. Like it or not, that’s Korean culture. “Personal space” is such a Western concept. Of course there are rude/inconsiderate ajummas but in general, when you get to know them, you will discover that they are in fact very nurturing, kind-hearted people. You just have to get used to their mannerisms. Also, the reason you get stared at a lot (I’m guessing) is because you are white and they are just curious.

    5) Is it really that surprising to you that no one at your bank speaks English? Just a suggestion, but perhaps you should try speaking in Korean, since you are in Korea after all. (Losing your money is another matter).

    6) Are you kidding?! Maybe it’s not possible at meat/bbq places but it’s totally possible at most lower-end restaurants (kimbap chungook, for instance), same as everywhere else. I used to eat alone here quite often, felt totally comfortable with it, and never got any weird looks. Of course you don’t go into a gourmet restaurant and ask for a table for one – that’s weird no matter what country you’re in.

    7) Fair enough.

    8) Agreed – they’re a pain and oftentimes flat-out rude.

    9) Haha.

    10) Agreed. They usually don’t taste very good. That’s why I stick with Korean food. It’s better in terms of taste and what you get for the money.

    Just my opinion!

    1. Hi Hans,

      Thanks for taking the effort to reply to each point. I guess all I can say is this post, this blog, is just my opinion so whatever I write is merely how I feel about certain things. I guess its always wrong to make generalizations, as you mentioned with regards to ajummas, but IMO this is how I see them. When I shared this post with my boss (crazy eh?!) he laughed and agreed with every point except for the point about the ajummas complaining his wife and his mother are ajummas and they are totally awesome. Pushy and bossy but powerful and care about their family above all else.

      With regards to eating out I’m a bit limited as I don’t eat kimbap or anything cooked with or near fish/seafood as im allergic which can narrow down my choice quite a lot. I LOVE LOVE LOVE bbq and am sad that i can never go and eat alone.

      With regards to my bank them speaking English isn’t the problem..although to be fair by boss opened an account with that branch specifically because they told us one of their staff members spoke fluent English. The problem is their EXORBITANT fees to transfer my money and the fact, like I mentioned above that they KEEP losing/misplacing my money!!

      Anyway thanks for your comment and sharing your opinions. Janet

  6. They dont’ have my shoe size either. It’s a pain in the ass. Thankfully I’m a guy though and only buy shoes once a year. Nonetheless, pain in the ass having to order from the states.

    1. Dustin although I have big trouble finding shoes in stores I did recently discover a lot of online shoes stores such as bigshoes.co.kr or bigclub.co.kr. You should check them out! 🙂

  7. I loved Germany. I almost wept when I left Costa Rica. Portugal is a great place. Korea revolts me, because it is populated by Koreans. I resigned after two months and have been working out my contract for nearly three. I can’t wait t get on that plane.

  8. I came to Korea naive and in love. I met a pretty Korean girl, we got engaged and moved to Busan to get married. I learned the language and the culture and that’s when I learnt…hmm…no matter how hard I try or how well I speak the language, I will forever be an outsider in this society. And now that we have kids, they will be too. So what really grinds my gears is Korea’s race based nationalism and xenophobia. My kids are Korean citizens, but because they are bilingual and aren’t a carbon copy of everyone else everyone assumes they are “waygook”. Speaking of which, it has never dawned on a Korean parent or any other adult to teach kids that it’s rude to point fingers or talk about people when they’re standing right in front of you, even if you think they can’t understand you (which most of us can since about every 10’th word is “waygook”). I refuse to raise my boys in a place where they will be seen as a novelty, an amusement, an interesting animal at the zoo to be stared at and poked and prodded. Korea may not be outright racist towards my boys, but its race based nationalism is hurtful enough for me to want to protect them from it. Dear Korea, you can keep your precious “pure blood” cuz I’m taking my family elsewhere where they won’t be dehumanized.

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