Common Mistakes Tourists make in Korea (part 2 of 2)

So last week I wrote up a post about the top common mistakes tourists make when they come to Korea. It was getting to be long so I broke it up into two parts. That was 1 through 5 and now I’m presenting the last 5 this week. They come in no particular order. Again, nobody is going to put you down for committing any of these, but it’s just good to know before coming here.

  1. They try to give tips – There’s no tipping culture in Korea. Do not tip your taxi drivers nor your waitresses. With customer service in Korea, you get 5 star service regardless of a tip or not because it’s already embedded in the price. It’s part of the reasons why a Samsung phone costs more in Korea than anywhere else in the world. No need to tip. The last thing we need in our economy is more inflation or worse…people expecting or demanding tips. If you really want to do something for us, a gift from where you are from is always a nice gesture.

    20160203_210218.jpg
    15%, 25%? Pre-tax? Post-tax? No need to stress about that stuff here in Korea!
  2. Being afraid to ask for directions – When you first walk down the streets of Seoul, you may notice that people don’t really have expressions on their faces. They may seem cold or look unapproachable. But deep down inside what you will find is that the Korean people are extremely friendly. We are a society that is based on Confucian principles. One of those values is that it is considered rude to show in public, emotions that you are overly happy or even sad. People tend to mask this by maintaining the neutral face that you see. With that said, I wouldn’t just jump in front of people and ask for directions. They will run away. I suggest the slow, i-look-kind-of-lost-type-of-face approach while clenching onto a map. And don’t be afraid if you think that they might not speak English. The younger generation can speak enough to at least point you in the right direction. Don’t expect a full blown conversation, but they would be happy to help out and practice their English on you.

    SJC_Gangnam_-25
    I.Seoul.U
  3. They don’t visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea – I get a lot of customers who tell me they don’t want to visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea. And then I look at them strangely, “Yet, you came to Seoul which is only 40KM away is perfectly fine?!?” So I’ll put it to you like this: If North Korea ever attacked South Korea, the DMZ is the last place they would start (JSA – The Joint Security Area for that matter). It is just as much a tourist spot for North Korea as it is for South Korea. If they were to attack, then they would probably start somewhere like the maritime borders like they did last time or just straight up bomb Seoul like they did at the start of the Korean War. Just go to the DMZ.

    DMZ at JSA
    The North Koreans putting on a show for us. Bravo. Well worth the price of the tour! It was better than Cats!
  4. They go with an travel agent that puts ginseng or raisin extract store on the itinerary – Or amethyst, seaweed or cosmetics store. Don’t get me wrong. Ginseng and raisin extract are great products of Korea and you should buy them as souvenirs. In fact, I live by ginseng and eat it all the time. But when you see it on the itinerary from the tour companies, you should beware. This may be a tourist trap – literally. They trap tourists in a room where a someone tries to sell you this stuff. There are no prices listed anywhere so it’s easy for them to jack up the price and they close the entry door on you. A lady will then start explaining the health benefits to it and give you a demonstration on how to use the product. Sure, there’s value in that and there’s no pressure to buy plus it might even lower the price of your tour, but you waste a lot of your limited time in Korea there. Your vacation ain’t that long!

    Cheong-Kwan-Jang
    If you really want ginseng, I would feel much better taking you to a Cheong-Kwan-Jang which can be found on any street corner in Korea with reasonable prices.
  5. They did not get a tour guide – As much as it seems like a plot to plug our services, it’s true. Even though Korean is a developed nation, it’s still very raw. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure that other countries have so it’s tough to go at it alone. Especially when you are trying to get outside of Seoul, you waste a lot of time with the language barrier and unfamiliar systems. A good Korean tour guide will tidy all that up for you. Sure you can read up on travel guides and blogs on how to get around, but the reality is that it’s pretty tough once you are here. And if you try to go about the palaces alone, they just become empty buildings with no character. You need a great guide to bring that all to life for you and tell you the stories that really makes these places so amazing.
    I say this because the last thing I want you to do is leave here with a bad experience or worse yet, leave here more confused than you did before coming here.

    USD Tour
    You are going to leave here so educated on Korea. You all are Korea experts now!

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5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..

I’ve lived in Seoul for a while now, but it’s only been recent that I have become aware about some of these nuances. Expats may know some, but tourists most definitely will not. As a tour guide, it’s my job to let them know.

1. They’re here!! It’s not some Poltergeist movie, but it could be.

samsungeverywhere

In Korean society today, Samsung is omnipresent. Obviously we know them as the tech giant that makes all of our smart phones and televisions. But did you know that the wonderful new couple you met last week might have been married by Samsung?

If you stand in the middle of Seoul right now and do a 360 degree turn, you will see that they are just about everywhere. You may even see that they might be looking right back at you. Albeit, branded differently.

Today, you can have a baby born in a Samsung Medical Center. You can have that baby grow up in a Samsung apartment (Samsung Remien). They can be clothed by Samsung (Beanpole, 8 Seconds and FUBU??). They can play at Samsung (Everland Theme Park). They can attend a Samsung school and graduate from a Samsung university (Sungkyungkwan University).

When they grow up they can work at any of the Samsung affiliated companies. They can be insured by Samsung Insurance and buy stocks through Samsung Securities. They can drive a Samsung car (SM) and stay at a Samsung hotel (Shilla). And all of this can be bought with a Samsung credit card!

Hell…you can even be buried by Samsung..

muahahaha..

2. Hazard Lights, a universal language or mental telepathy.

parking attendants in Korea

Why is everyone putting on their hazard lights? When driving in Korea, there is a subculture of communication and sub-context that people know but many other people might not get right away. The flashing of hazards have many meanings here.

a. I’m looking for a parking spot. Usually when entering into a large crowded garage parking lot, you’ll find parking attendants showing you where to go. In order to let them know you are looking for a spot, put your blinkers on. Otherwise they might show you the way out.

And if they do, don’t go crazy on them and do what these wannabe chaebol heiresses did.

b. I’m sorry.  When driving mistakes happen. Accidentally cut someone off? *Blinkers* Don’t want to wait in the long line to the next exit? Cut to the front, but remember to use those *Blinkers*

c. Thank you;; When that someone finally lets you cut through the line bypassing the other 200 cars behind it, show some gratitude by turning on the emergency lights. It also shows you have an ounce of remorse in your soul for committing such a heinous act.

d. I see somethings not right ahead. Let’s ALL slow down.. And as soon as you see the blinkers go off in the car in front of you, you should do the same thing to alert the cars behind you. This is probably because there is something in your lane and this is the warning before you might have to slam on the brakes!

3. Honey, I love you…but for the ten billionth time, LEAVE THE TOILET SEAT UP!! – And that’s what SHE said!

put-the-toilet-seat-up

Huh?? That’s right. You heard it here. In Korea, its good manners to leave the toilet seat up rather than down for the ladies. Ever seen a Korean bathroom? Most likely the toilet, sink and shower are all in the same place without separation. After taking a shower, who wants to sit on a wet toilet seat? Guys, be a gentleman and leave the toilet seat up for your woman.

Continue reading 5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..

8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea

Happy New Year 2015! And may this year be another great year for people to come to Korea.

A very rare species in Korea:  The Garbage Can
A very rare species in Korea: The Garbage Can

Being a tour guide in Korea, it’s funny to hear some of the same comments and questions over and over again from tourists. In doing so I’ve compiled some the top 8 as well as responses to debunk a lot of what is said or misconceived about Korea. Whether you are visiting Korea or are an expat entertaining guests who visit here, it’s good to equip yourself with some knowledge on how to address some of these observations. 1. “Since Korea is home to Samsung, Galaxy phones must be cheaper. Where do I get one?”Wrong. Samsung phones, as well as a lot of other products of Korea are actually more expensive here than anywhere else in the world. Even with the taxes and tariffs, you are better off buying them where you are from. Samsung claims that they are being fair with the prices due to the difference in “distribution systems”. What does this mean? Probably something to do with the vast competition other markets have vs Korea’s limited competition (which in turn creates a cartel). Whatever the reason is, bottom line: Samsung products are NOTICEABLY more expensive in Korea when in fact they are originated from here. In fact, a great gift for your hosts in Korea would be to bring them a new Samsung phone.

The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD
The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD

* On a side note: Because of this oligopoly, it tempts other foreign companies to come in and take advantage of us as well. Take for instance H&M and more recently IKEA. These companies are globally known as cheaper brands, but when they first came to Korea, they tried to charge higher than their normal prices here. They soon lowered their prices after informed netizens called them out on this. Too bad Korean netizens don’t have power over our home grown companies. I really need a Hyundai right now. 2. “Ooh, they have cider at this Korean restaurant. Let’s order that!” – Wrong. Cider in Korea is not the alcoholic drink that you are thinking of. It’s actually a word to describe a non-alchoholic carbonated drink similar to that of Sprite or 7-Up. So if you order cider at a restaurant, often times you will get that or a Korean local take on the beverage with Kin or Chilsung Cider which tastes lighter. Cider one of those English loan words that have been beaten up pretty bad after being loaned over two times through the Japanese Occupation (1910 – 1945). If you can just imagine a Japanese person back then trying to show a Korean how sophisticated they were with English you would come up with words like nan-ning-gu (난닝구) and bban-seu (빤스). Sound familiar? Somewhat? Kinda? It’s a derivative of the words “running-shirt” and “pants”, but you have say it a couple times in your head before you can actually make the connection. You then have to take it to the second-derivative to fully understand that it actually means…hold it…wait for it… “tank top” and “underwear”, in the Korean language. You can’t call this Konglish because it’s not our fault. But older-generation Koreans will use the words back at foreigners fully expecting that they will understand it thinking it’s English.

it's not what you think it is
it’s not what you think it is

Continue reading 8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea