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How Not to Seem Like an American Tourist in Korea

by Julian Pierce
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The worst things to do in South Korea that will give you away as a tourist

With the love of K-Pop going worldwide, and other media like ‘Manhwa’ growing in popularity, South Korea is quickly becoming a major place of interest for American travelers.

Lovers of the South Korean culture who make plans to visit, often want to blend in and find being spotted as a tourist quite embarrassing.

Blending in is quite difficult, however, as the culture is quite different.

Things You Should Avoid in Order to Blend in While Visiting South Korea

In order to blend in with Koreans, there are things you must refrain from doing. Some of them are;

1.     Dressing scantily.

For Americans who are mostly liberal in their clothing choice, Korean conservative standards will often come as a shock for both men and women. Men in Korea tend to wear jeans and slacks, not shorts that show the calves. For women, showing legs in shorts and short skirts is not bad, but cleavage and collarbones being on display is frowned upon. Wearing tight clothing is frowned upon as well. Both men and women are better off wearing long sleeves. Not even summer is an excuse to dress scantily as Korean summer fashion is still conservative.

2.     Entering places with your shoes.

American tourists who are used to wearing their shoes even indoors could get a culture shock from the fact that several places in Korea require you to take off your shoes. Koreans take off their shoes before going into people’s houses, temples, and even local restaurants where you have to sit on the floor. Even museums can require your shoes to be off. Be prepared to go without your shoes at most doorways. Keep an eye out.

3.     Using a fork.

Even if you know how to use chopsticks already, Korean chopsticks aren’t wooden, but metal. As such, it can be slippery and frustrating to use, so you might find yourself going for a fork. Don’t! You’re better off using a spoon in Korea than a fork as Koreans find stabbing at food to be violent and rude, and believe it ruins a dish. A lot of restaurants won’t even offer you a fork. Use a spoon if the chopsticks are too hard.

4.     Drinking without proper etiquette.

To the average American who is fond of popping open the occasional beer, or sitting at a bar, the idea of drinking with etiquette might bring some confusion, but yes, drinking is a huge part of the Korean culture, and they have etiquette you must follow so as not to appear rude. For example, you can’t reject a cup once it’s offered to you. If you don’t want to drink, you may accept it, touch it to your lips, and keep it in your hand. You can’t blatantly say no. The legal drinking age in Korea is also different from the US. Koreans can legally drink at 19 years old.

5.     Yelling at people.

As an American, it’s considered a perfectly normal reaction to yell at someone when they do something deserving of your anger. In Korea, however, it is considered rude and embarrassing on your part, to yell even when someone deserves it. Koreans do not yell at people, even when they mess up, especially in public. At most, they will glare at you, or shake their head and sigh.

Enjoy your trip!

While you do your best to blend in with the locals in Korea, it is important to remember that you are still a foreigner in a largely homogeneous country. Unless you happen to resemble a Korean, you will still stand out as a foreigner.

These tips will keep you from being an obnoxious tourist, but don’t overdo it and force yourself to seem like a local.

Take out your map of Korea, go visiting, and remember to have fun!

Tourist or not, you’re in Korea, aren’t you?

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