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.
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..
2. Hazard Lights, a universal language or mental telepathy.
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!
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.
4. Private Taxis (개인) vs. Company Taxis (법인)
Most people know about the difference between the deluxe taxis (black taxi – mobeom 모범) and a normal taxis. But did you know within that group of normal taxis, you have private and company cars. Private just merely means your driver owns the car and that this is his business. They are often friendlier take more ownership to offer you a safe and clean driving experience. Company taxis can be just as safe and clean, but there is a loose stigma attached to them in that they don’t care and that companies will hire just about anyone off the streets.
Another random tidbit about taxis is that in Seoul and Gyeongi areas, all taxi license plates have the Korean letters 아, 바, 사 and 자. Or Ah, Ba, Sa, Ja. A good way to remember it is thinking “father lion” or 아빠사자. Again, if you don’t see the above letters on a taxi license plate, it’s a set up and you should JUST RUN!
5. Oh, the public transportation in Seoul is great, BUT…that all breaks down at EXACTLY 12AM until 1AM.
Yeah our public transportation system is great and it’s heralded not only by Koreans, but expats living here. That is until 12AM and it turns into the zombie apocalypse. That is when we get hit by a double whammy. That is when our subway system starts to shut down. And depending on what station you are at, you might have already missed it.
The other whack in the ass is that 12AM is also when the taxi drivers change shifts and go home. So what you will find during this hour is that drivers will be picky with their passengers and only go in a direction of their homes. You’ll see them slowly pulling up to desperate customer to desperate customer with their window rolled down asking them where they need to go. You are not going anywhere near their homes? Too bad – onto the next customer.
Best thing to do if you are caught needing a ride during this 1 hour window of hell is to not say anything and try to open the door and quickly get in. Tell them where you need to go once you are inside. If they refuse to take you to where you want to go, then tell them to take you to the nearest police station that is most convenient for them. Refusing customers by a taxi is ILLEGAL in Korea and you should take pictures and report this action.
You would think that in a place so sophisticated as Seoul today that they would think to stagger the times of the shift changes or do it at another hour not coinciding with the subway shutdown! Best thing to do in Korea is to go home before midnight. Because as the saying will probably live on forever, “Nothing good ever happens after 12 o’clock”.