When Koreans visit the USA, they find that there are many cultural differences. They are sometimes surprised, pleased, or shocked depending on what the situation is. They also have a different world view which reflects their different culture, history, language, eating habits and climate. Here are 10 things that Koreans always remark on or notice when they visit or work in America.
1. No daylight time saving
Koreans notice how Americans complain about how daylight time saving changes affect their sleep-wake cycles. They talk about having to get used to adjusting to the new time change. Koreans have never experienced this as daylight time saving does not exist in their country and in most of Asia.
2. Patience is a virtue
Another shock for the Koreans is how Americans expect to be on hold for 20 minutes–or even an hour–when they call a company or government department. In Korea, the average wait time for a call is three to four minutes so they think Americans are very patient.
3. Resumes are shorter
When Koreans apply for a job, they are forced to mention their parents’ job histories and education as well! The reason for this is that many of the big Korean corporations are family owned. It is also a reflection of how important family ties are in their society.
4. No military conscription
Korean visitors are usually pleasantly surprised to note that there is no military conscription in the USA. All South Korean males between the ages of 18 and 35 must serve in the army for a two-year period. This is a very controversial aspect of Korean life. Many Koreans envy countries like the USA, where the military draft ended in 1973
5. Service expectations are different
Koreans always notice how much longer everything seems to take in restaurants. They are used to shouting out “Yeogiyo” which means “come here, please.” They find it difficult to adjust to the technique of catching the waiter’s eye, which is considered more polite in American culture but can take a lot longer.
6. Great variety of food and meals
Koreans love eating in America because they are stunned by the variety of dishes and the fact that there are different menus for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In Korea, they always have rice which is served with a vast variety of side dishes. Their staple dishes, such as kimchi (fermented cabbage), can be delicious. Chopchae is another very tasty option.
7. Formality vs. informality
In South Korea, everyone greets each other with a little bow as a sign of respect. In many ways life is much more formal than in the USA. They find it strange that everyone seems to be on first name terms. In Korea, first names are reserved for close friends.
Formality extends to clothes and fashion when, for example, showing too much cleavage is not really coo. The concept of saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes is strange. Since this is a normal body function, there is no reason to acknowledge it. A similar attitude is shown when Koreans do not say “I’m sorry” when they step on someone’s foot in the subway. They find that courtesy a pleasant surprise in America.
8. Distances take some getting used to
When you think that South Korea is about the same area of Indiana, you can understand how Koreans find talk of travel and distances disconcerting. If you suggest a road trip lasting more than 3 hours, that would be the equivalent of travelling the length of their country!
9. Americans have more free time
Koreans work very hard; figures show that they work 14% longer than we do. It is also shocking to discover how short their vacations are–sometimes only 3 days! They envy this and marvel at how much more free time we have to relax and enjoy life.
10. Workplace etiquette is very different
When Koreans see how Americans are relaxed and casual in the workplace, they blink again. It is a totally new world for them. They will normally have to address their manager with respectful titles, which may include the word “teacher.” They have to wear suits and ties, and women are not allowed to dress casually. Status is so important that it is not surprising to learn that Korean grammar reflects this.
Americans are normally very friendly, informal and direct in almost every level of society. They prefer to speak frankly and economically. If you see Koreans looking puzzled or having difficulty adjusting, you now know why.
“At the end of hardship comes happiness.”- Korean proverb
Featured photo credit: Kieran Lynam via flickr.com