I love living in Korea, but as is true with any relationship, for everything you love, there is something you hate.
I like to consider myself a patient person. It takes a lot for something to really get under my skin and burrow around before I really get annoyed. Well, after living in Korea for nine months, I finally have a list of annoyingly frustrating things about Korea. It is a small list, mind you, but it is a list nonetheless.
Annoying Thing Number One
Doing laundry. To start, all the functions on my washing machine are in Korean (of course), which means those first few loads of laundry was like playing a game of Russian Roulette, only the wellbeing of my entire wardrobe was at stake. Not only that, but the washing machines here simply don’t clean as well as the ones back home. More often than not, as I am hanging clothes out to dry (because electric dryers are a concept that does not exist here), I find cat hair and lint all over my clothes, even though I shook them out and ran them with a lint brush before throwing them in the wash. Not to mention the washing machines are rough on clothes, especially cottons. Even after putting my clothes in a mesh bag, I have lost four of my favorite cotton T’s from the states to stretching and warping caused by the machine. May you rest in peace, my Star Wars novelty T’s.
Annoying Thing Number Two
Pushing. People in Korea are very pushy. Take the elevator for example. Imagine you are on an elevator. When you get to your floor, the doors slide open. There is someone outside waiting to get on, but they step to the side to let you exit before they step on the lift.
This does NOT happen in Korea.
If someone wants to get on the elevator in Korea, they will get on the elevator. They don’t care if you are visibly making your way out; they will push past you to get in. And to make things better, if a Korean is really impatient, they are pushing the Close Door button as you are leaving the elevator.
To be fair, Koreans don’t always push their way into the elevator. Sometimes they wait for you to exit before they step on, but they are waiting dead center in front of the elevator doors, forcing you to act like a jerk and push past them. –sigh–
Annoying Thing Number Three
Last minute notice (or no notice) on everything. Seriously. It is so difficult to plan anything in advance because there is always a 50-50 chance that some unexpected work event will pop up and ruin your plans (or at least it seems that way). It’s Thursday afternoon, and you had plans to go on a weekend trip to Busan? You already booked your train ticket? Too bad! There’s a mandatory workshop Saturday morning.
And this isn’t limited only to hagwons in Korea. I am currently in the process of moving apartments, so for the past month I have had random visits from my housing manager and realtors, checking to see if everything is working and showing the apartment to potential renters. Back in the states, whenever my landlord was going to show our apartment, she would give us at least a week’s notice. But in Korea, all the notice I got was the ring of my doorbell, shortly followed by the chime as someone was punching in the code to my apartment.
This is probably the most difficult thing to adjust to when you get to Korea. Everything is last minute and on a need-to-know basis. When you arrive in Korea, you hit the ground running. Everyone else is halfway through the marathon, and it is up to you to sprint and catch up without having stretched beforehand. It really kind of sucks in the beginning, but it does get easier once you find your pace.
Annoying Thing Number Four
Everything is made for couples. Literally every event or activity in Korea is catered towards couples. Festivals have photo booths specified for couples. Movie theaters heavily advertise couple’s popcorn-and-soda sets, so ordering a solo popcorn with one soda is only slightly tainted by shame and embarrassment. Tourist attractions (the worst of which being Namsan Tower) are revered as a destination for lovers. Even popular dinners in Korea are limited for solo diners because so many meals are offered only as combination sets for 2+ people.
During my time in Korea, I’ve noticed that most Koreans are not good at going out and doing things alone, especially the younger adults. You will very rarely see a Korean out at some festival, or going to a movie, or even out to dinner, without at least one person by their side. To go out and do something alone in Korea is a pitiable offence. Whenever I tell my students I go to see a movie alone, they respond with a mixture of horror and sympathy.
Once, when I visited Namsan Tower (a tower on top a mountain in Seoul that has a 360 view of the city), a Korean girl asked to borrow my phone so she could call a friend she was supposed to meet. Her friend couldn’t make it, and the girl I was talking to was upset because she wanted to go up the tower. I suggested she go up anyways, without her friend. Her response?
“Oh, I can’t do that. It’s too embarrassing to go there alone.”
Unbeknownst to her, I had just returned from a solo-trip from the top of the tower. Was I embarrassed by being alone? Nope. But I did notice that the Koreans around me did feel awkward about the fact that I was alone. Which was really, really annoying. Yes, I am single. Yes, I am going out into the world and doing things. I am not going to subject myself to the life of a hermit for shame of being seen in public alone. I don’t care about being a so-called “multi-solo,” so no one else should care either.
Annoying Thing Number Five
Super Supermarkets (SSM’s) closures on Sunday. Big stores like Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart are forced, by law, to close every other Sunday. The purpose of this is to increase business in the smaller mom and pop shops on those days, which makes total sense. But for the life of me, I can never remember which Sundays the stores are open, and which Sundays the stores are closed. Some stores are open on the first and third Sundays, closed on the second and fourth Sundays, while other stores are switched. It is so confusing! And don’t even get me started on what happens if there is a fifth Sunday in the month.
I can’t even count the number of times I have trekked four subway stops away, canvas tote bag around my shoulder, determined to get some decently priced oranges (the price of fresh produce in Korea is absolutely insane), only to find it’s market closure day. GAH! Honestly, of the things that annoy me in Korea, this is the one that truly gets under my skin.