I Live In Korea

My name is Ben Gwynne. I USED to teach English in Incheon, South Korea. Here's some photos, stories, videos, etc.

1. You can have custom phone rings on house phones, not just cell phones, and many people do. It’s extremely annoying. I have to call about 50 of my students once a month to give them a speaking test over the phone and every time I hear these ridiculous rings……..some are so ridiculous I actually like them, but still…

2. 99% of the people here obey traffic lights even if there’s no cars around. There’s a traffic light in my neighborhood that’s 3 minutes and 45 seconds long and people wait for them all the time. It’s all related to their respect for authority and doing what you’re told. I was out with a group and some of us crossed a street even though we didn’t have the light. A Korean friend told my American friend who stayed back “you follow the signs.” Plain and simple. Furthermore, NOT obeying the traffic light can get you into trouble. I found this out at 5am on my second weekend here when crossing the street in my town. I wasn’t waiting 3+ minutes to cross the street, I got screamed at by a cop (god knows why he was monitoring traffic crossings at 5am) but used the “new, stupid foreigner” card.

Want even more proof how serious they are about violating traffic code? (No, skip ahead) Well, in a particular popular music video, the singer is shown running freely across a street. That video is BANNED and not shown on one of the TV stations which shows music videos because he is shown violating “rules.” This has happened to a few music videos before too. Pretty intense.

3. Everyone here knows their blood type. They write about it in their school diary when they are talking about themselves, and they are shocked that I didn’t know mine (had to ask mommy for it) which they have asked for on many occasions.

4. A good percentage of bars and restaurants have buttons on the tables. You push a button, a screen near the kitchen area shows the table which is calling for attention, and within 5 seconds you’ll notice someone walking toward you to help you out with whatever you need. So, the waiters NEVER bother you, you are in no rush to leave. You need something, you push a button. You want to hang out for a while, you sit there and enjoy it. It’s great. I think it’s more efficient, and I like being left alone. “Double bonus,” as a former coworker would say.

5. They call ALL running races “marathons”

BG: “I used to run a lot, now, not so much.”
Guy: “Oh really, do you run a lot of marathons?”
BG: “Not a lot, I’ve ran 3”
Guy: “How long were they?”
BG: “Ummmm, 26.2 miles”

Marathon basically means a race. 5k marathon, 10k marathon, half marathon, full marathon.

6. My students were FLABBERGASTED that my mother didn’t live in NY where me, my brother and sister live (if my sister is reading this she’s loving that). They didn’t understand why my mother would move away from us, we’re not married, we don’t have kids, why would a parent leave their children? It’s just not something that gets done here. It’s quite common for people to live with their parents until they get married, and a parent moving far away from their kids was like someone willingly falling off the face of the earth and breaking contact with everyone they knew in the world. An hour or so away? No biggie, but a few hours by flight? They couldn’t believe it.

7. My bank has an ATM fee when I take money out of it, at my own bank! That fee is about 40 cents. Meanwhile, if it’s not my bank or if I’m at a convenience store, the ATM fee is only 80 cents. Much cheaper than the US, but still it’s weird my own bank charges me.

8. No drinking at concerts. This was appalling to me, even more so than the fact you can’t drink at most bowling alleys. I went to a concert not too long ago and you could only drink in the lobby area, no booze allowed in the venue. Unbelievable. There’s some pretty big inconsistency regarding Korea and drinking. In a way, it’s more of a drinking culture than the US. Many of the people are overworked, and going out and getting sloshed every night isn’t out of the ordinary. Some bars are open till 10am, drinking is allowed in public and even in cabs, yet I can’t drink at a concert? Weird.

9. Perfectly normal for kids to come to school sick. Unable to function in class? It’s okay, come to school. You won’t get anyone sick, just wear a face mask instead. Only exception is if someone has an illness at the time of a “pandemic” like bird flu, swine flu, or any other flu related to animals. Sick days are RARE, for school and work.

10. Chopsticks are used to eat just about everything, even cake. For some reason they cut cakes into slices, then just maul it with chopsticks even though no cutting is really needed if you’re eating it that way. Weird.


Chris in South Korea said...

Nice post - a couple things for readers to be aware of.

Regarding #7: that's only true after-hours. If the bank is closed and the ATM is open, it'll charge you. If it's doing that when the bank is open, there's a problem. Head inside to withdraw your money.

Regarding #8: hard to call that a general rule - drinking at concerts happens whether it's 'permitted' or not. Unless the only entrance is guarded by a bouncer checking your bags every time, it's going to happen. It really depends on the venue - some places don't want to cleanup afterwards.

Ben Gwynne said...

Interesting. Thanks, I didn't know about #7. I'll check my receipt next time I go. I guess I tend to go late when I get off work and the bank is closed then. THat still makes for an interesting policy.

#8, they didn't let people drink inside the venue where the singer was playing. THey had guards (korean girls) walking around nabbing people. But I'm sure there's places that don't care, and obviously you can drink at music festivals.

Anonymous said...


Kafka said...

There is no fee if you use ATM by 6:00 p.m. on weekday in KB. Well,why don't you make a check card?

Ben Gwynne said...

Thanks Kafka, you and Chris just told me something I didn't know. Thanks!

HennyPenny said...

My husband still calls me "A" when I'm busy worrying about something... funny how the blood type fits ;)

Ben Gwynne said...

Good one Penny, are you here all week? lol

Kafka said...

Do you know that Korean children have to do raise their hand on around right chest like military when they was asked to get together in school ground?

Ben said...

No, I didn't know that. Can you explain a little more, I'm not 100% sure what you are talking about. So if they want to ask a teacher if they can go meet another student they have to put their hand on their chest? Really?

Kafka said...

No. Sometimes,all students have to get together in school ground. It's a kind of events in Korea school. Principles announce us about school event stuff like that. A principle hand in testimonial to a student who already planned to receive it and we have to applaud. we have to put hands on left chest toward Korean flag. or singing school song and the patriotic song. Every order I wrote above is mixed up. There is a fixed guide to do this in each school.

Stefan said...

I totally loved these points about Korea. Ok; my favorite, the push buttons in the restaurants. If only it were like that in the U.S. hee hee

Ben Gwynne said...

The push buttons are amazing. I feel like a King and I'm being waited on by servants, don't feel that way in the US.

JBC said...

I completely disagree with the traffic light observation. Quite the opposite in my experience. Unless it is a major intersection, the just go through it, more a suggestion than a rule.

Anonymous said...

Well I disagree with your disagreement. Vast majority respected it throughout the year I was there.