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Photo on 2009-08-19 at 10.25 copy

Here are some cultural tidbits I’ve learned in Korea:

1) Do not toss something to someone who you consider to be a friend.
I learned this when I tossed a book to my friend at my apartment. In Canada (and the rest of the world, I’d presume), it isn’t out of the ordinary to give something to someone by tossing it their way. This is a no-no in Korea. You should place whatever it is you’re giving to the person neatly in front of them, preferably with both hands.

2) Give money to store clerks and other such people with both hands.
This is similar to the book tossing incident. Don’t toss the money on the counter. It’s even considered rude to give the money to the teller with one hand. I don’t really understand this one.

3) Do not hail a cab with your palm facing outwards.
I was always wondering why cabs were driving right past me. Maybe it’s because I look American. Nope. I found out from my neighbour’s girlfriend that you should not hail a cab with your palm facing out, as this is considered rude.

4) Do not beckon for someone to come to you with your palm facing outwards.
This goes along with the cab hailing thing. Koreans beckon someone to come to them with their palms facing down, which to me looks like the ‘go away’ sign. The logic is this: You call your dog or pet to come to you with your palm facing down, not humans (or those whom you consider to be human). I did this once to an older waitress at a restaurant, only to be given a deeply scornful grimace.

5) Do not turn down food offered to you.
I learned this lesson when at an old girlfriend’s family gathering. They offered me the tail of an eel, which is considered to be the most ‘virile’ part, which would apparently give me the reproductive fortitude of Caligula himself. I politely gestured ‘No, you can have it, thanks.’. Big no-no.

6) Give some consideration to your friends and hosts by learning the very basics of Korean.
Another lesson from an old girlfriend. I brought a cake to a family dinner. Her sister very politely said the friendly form of ‘thank you’, which is 큼어워. I think I spelled that correctly. It’s pronounced ‘Keum-ah woh”. I sat there confused. Finally I was told that that was an informal, friendly way of saying ‘thank you’, as opposed to the more formal 감사합니다 (kam sa hamnida). Had I learned the very basics, this situation could have been averted. Learning a bit of the language also shows that you are not ethnocentric, and that you regard their language as something worthy of your attention.

7) If you get a girlfriend, forget being able to hang out with any of your female friends.
This may not apply to every girl, but from the ones I’ve dated, do not expect it to go over well if you have female friends. I even had a girl get jealous over my 14-year-old language partner, a friend of a friend who I met in Canada while getting my TESOL certification. It’s quite possible that this is an extreme case (as this girl was fit to be put in a straight jacket and heavily sedated), but generally, when Koreans have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you should expect to kiss most of your ‘superfluous’ friendships goodbye, because you should be focused only on your partner. Sucks.

However, the most important lesson I’ve learned here is not cultural. Many people you meet in life will make you feel obliged to do what they want you to do, and for you to bow to their every whim. If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s how to say “No.” 아니. No. People will try to take advantage of my kindness and trust in others, but I won’t have it any longer.

I came here with infant eyes, trustful of others and open to society. I have learned the harsh reality that is the world, and have also learned some hard lessons in love. The number one relationship lesson I’ve learned is this: IF SOMEONE IS PASSIONATE, REMEMBER THAT IT SWINGS BOTH WAYS. I don’t use caps lock often, but this is one situation where it is pertinent. If someone suddenly and deeply falls in love with you, chances are they will be able to drop you like a bad habit just as quickly and easily. These people are toxic, and will make you question your own judgment, and the ‘self’ that you’ve come to know your whole life. Avoid highly passionate love affairs at all costs. Now, there’s nothing wrong with someone falling in love with you, or you falling in love with someone, but during your first fight, take note how quickly and easily that person gets angry and ‘snaps out of it’. This is a good method to gauge how mentally realistic this person is. There’s nothing wrong with passion, but remember that passion goes both ways.

I guess this should have been two separate posts, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and no motivation to post anything. It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me, but I know that I’m stronger than the world around me.



  1. Mike,
    I Love this post, especially the first part about Korean Culture, very entertaining, interesting and funny.
    I love your editorial on passion as well. In some ways you are lucky, You came out of that relationship alive!!!
    Keep up the good work, I really enjoy your posts.

  2. haha I remember my first day of nursery school… telling kids to “come here” with my palm upward. When I realized I was basically calling them like they were animals I felt so terrible. That quickly changed!

    Definitely good pointers in this post!

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