9 South Korean Cultures That Might Shock You

From being war-torn in the 1950’s to now a first-world country, South Korea never fails to surprise us whether you are traveling to South Korea or watching your favorite Korean drama, there are some things or cultures that may surprise you.  Today, I will let you know of the 9 South Korean cultures that might shock you (I was pretty shocked myself when I got here and amazed at the same time).

1. Military Draft

In South Korea, able-bodied men with age between 18-35 are subject to a mandatory army training for 2 years. Yes, you read that right. Two years.

You might see them in subways, buses and train stations in Seoul.

Photo credit: Google.com

Okay, maybe not them…

korean military draft
Photo: Google.com

Conscription or mandatory military service is a sensitive topic for Koreans but they have a low tolerance for those who are trying to dodge or those who want special treatment. If they refuse, they go to jail. Sometimes you might be wondering what happened to your favorite Kpop idol or singer, that all of a sudden they’re gone or missing or not making any new music, etc.. well they’re probably serving their military duties.

photo credit: Koreaboo.com

Currently, this type of military duty is in effect in North Korea, Eritrea, Brazil, Switzerland, Israel, and Syria. Some countries also reinstated military conscription such as Georgia, Lithuania, Sweden, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Iran, and Cuba.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-44646267

I wonder what would happen if this is implemented in the Philippines? I remember when I was in high school that we had a subject or elective like this where they teach us how to march, tinker with fake rifles, etc. just like in the army.

What do you think?

2. Cafe Culture

I have never seen so many coffee shops in my life than in Seoul! Although there are also a lot of cafes in the Philippines, they leveled it up here in South Korea!

coffee shop in south korea
“Mukhang kailangan ni koya ng mas maraming kape…”

You can find cafes on almost every street and some of them have themes like a dog or cat cafe where you can play with the animals while sipping your cappuccino.

coffee in south korea
This was supposed to be a heart…

I visited is an anime-themed called Cafe De One Piece. It’s a pirate ship for crying out loud. Lol.

Cafe De One Piece in Hongdae

And I visited a dog cafe which is very popular here in Seoul, the Bau Haus Dog Cafe!

Click to read my experience in a Dog Cafe in Hongdae

And the most recent is the Harry Potter themed cafe in Hongdae.

Click here to read what you can find in King’s Cross cafe…

3. Food Culture

South Korean cuisine is very unique (and hard to pronounce for foreigners, lol) and delicious! South Korea is known for their Korean BBQ, samgyupsal, galbi and all other sumptuous meats.

korean food
Korean Food Photo: Google.com

Korean food mainly consists of vegetables and it wouldn’t be complete without the star of the show… KIMCHI!

photo from platingsandpairing.com

As a fair warning, most of Korean food are spicy and if that’s not what you like, better ask before you order if they can make it not spicy. Just a tip: if the food is reddish in color, like kimchi, it is spicy.

4. Work Culture

South Koreans are known to be hard workers. The typical working hours is 12 hours/day.


According to the article, a popular TV drama in 2014 called Misaeng, showed a vivid portrayal of the conservative Korean corporate culture — frequent overtime, the office hierarchy, verbal and even physical abuse, sexual harassment and workplace bullying.

I have worked with Koreans and I will not say that they are all good experiences. You will encounter racism and language barrier to say the least, although I think it’s pretty normal for locals and foreigners to have in a typical workplace with mixed races. It’s just reality.

There are also good stories, though. There are ajummas (old lady) who will be like a mother figure who will take care of you like you are there child. AJossi’s (old men) also constantly try to practice their English skills and frequently jokes around. It depends on your workplace and the people in it.

5. Smartphone culture

When you have one of the biggest manufacturers of smartphones in the world, Samsung, in your country, guess what? Almost everyone owns a phone and they use it for a lot of things.

They use it to buy things, for paying train and taxi fare, to watch drama and tv shows, they even have a tournament for playing video games, etc. 

6. Honesty Culture

I would often cringe whenever I am in a cafe or restaurant and I would see someone leave their phone or laptop or any gadget out in the open and go to the counter to order.

In my mind, I would often say “If that’s in my country, hmmm…”

No T, no shade.

In South Korea, there’s just so many stories about honesty and how safe you feel here. I recall there even was a lady who threw money in the middle of a street and no one picked it up (I’m trying to look for the link to the story). Because it is illegal to get money that doesn’t belong to you including found money and keep it. You have to surrender it to either the lost and found or the police. Isn’t that cool?

I don’t know if it’s just because they are too honest, or is it because there are so many CCTV’s all-over that perpetrators can be easily traced and apprehended. Whatever the reason is, the lesson here is that honesty can be ingrained in a culture and society.

7. Mountain Climbing/Hiking Culture

gamaksan trail mountain climbing/hiking in south korea

If you often ride the subway, you will often see Koreans donning mountain climbing outfits with a huge backpack with hiking sticks (that could poke you so watch out). They love the outdoors and they love to go hiking. 

8. Sauna and Jimjilbang Culture


Koreans love to go to a sauna or “jimjilbang”. It is like a family affair to them. I would often see a father and son in a sauna like it is their bonding time to clean their bodies and soak up in huge hot tubs. Afterwards, they would all converge in the family room with the mother and daughter and sleep in the common area and eat together after a nap.

One more thing, be ready to bathe naked with other same sex customers. This was a bit of a shock to me when I went there for the first time. For Koreans, it’s nothing. They just strip and walk in the sauna in their birthday suit just like that.

9. Seniority Culture

Koreans put a lot of premium on age. When you speak to someone older than you, there is a formal way to do so which is called 존댓말 (Polite). It usually ends withnida like Gamsahamnida or -yo like Annyeonghaseyo. It is also predominant in their culture to call an older sister “unnie” or an older brother “hyung“. For girls, calling an older brother or significant other, they use “oppa“. Sounds familiar? Oppa Gangnam style, perhaps?

seniority culture
photo: Reuters.com

In summary, here are the 9 cultures in South Korea that might shock you:

  1. Military Draft
  2. Cafe Culture
  3. Food Culture
  4. Work Culture
  5. Smartphone Culture
  6. Honesty Culture
  7. Mountain Climbing Culture
  8. Sauna and Jimjilbang Culture
  9. Age Culture

Which of these cultures shocked you? Comment down below.


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