The Things I did in Korea that I’d Never do in the States.

South Korea Skyline: Old meets modern.

I wanted to live in a foreign country for a few reasons. Firstly, to get out of the US for a bit. Secondly, to add some stamps and visas to my passport. Lastly, to experience something new. Something so entirely different than to what I was used to back home.

Korea was a perfect place for doing exactly that. After being in a different place for so long, you begin to grow accustom to their cultural habits–and may even copy them yourself. In fact, I found myself doing things in Korea that I would probably never do back home in the States.

I left my purse unattended.

I was once waiting at the dentist while Daniel was getting his wisdom tooth extracted (for only $10, by the way!). I desperately needed the bathroom, but I also didn’t want to give up my comfy seat.

Here was my dilemma: go to the bathroom, bring my purse with me, and have the possibility of losing my comfortable seat. Or take a risk of leaving my bag and jacket to claim my seat.

When I first arrived here, I was always baffled when I saw women who’d leave their purses unattended in their shopping cart while they selected the perfect square of tofu. Didn’t they know they’re putting it at risk? Anyone could just snatch it away!

I soon learned that Koreans aren’t really like that. That’s why the women do it. Korea is a generally safe country, and I loved that I always felt comfortable walking around at night. The thought of getting mugged hardly ever crossed my mind. And that’s why I chose to leave my bag unattended. I came back from the bathroom and everything was still where I’d left it.

The Streets of Busan, South Korea.

I threw used toilet paper into a trash can (and not in the toilet).

This is a common practice in Korea and in Asia. If you didn’t know, instead of throwing the toilet paper down the toilet people toss it into a trash can next to it. In other words: binning it.

I guess the reasoning behind this has to do with the plumbing (or so they say). Eons ago, the pipes weren’t able to handle toilet paper. Thus, the bins were introduced.

Unfortunately this practice is still done today, despite the new, modern buildings. I always liked to prove to myself that Korean plumbing could handle toilet paper, and I often threw the toilet paper into the toilet at home AND at school.

During my twelve months of living in Korea, the toilets were A-OK. But there were plenty of times when I felt guilty if I threw it down the toilet. When did I decide to throw it in a bin? Usually if it appeared to be an old building and there was a sign in Korean with a picture of a person putting toilet paper into the toilet and a big X over it.

Guards at palace in Seoul, South Korea.

I brushed my teeth at work.

Each day after school lunch, all of the kids would head to the bathroom with their toothbrush and toothpaste. I admit that on my first day, seeing this was a pretty bizarre moment. But after a few months I realized this wasn’t such a preposterous idea at all. It actually made perfect sense, especially when garlic was in in just about everything in Korea.

I ate pizza and honey together (and liked it).

There was an “Indian”  restaurant we frequented, which I hope is still there. I say “Indian” because there was curry served at the restaurant. But there was also pasta and pizza.

Surprisingly the pizza was quite nice, and our usual go-to-choice was a gorgonzola pizza. We have had other types of pizza, but this one was always served with a side of honey. Why? Well, we had no idea. We didn’t even know what the etiquette was: Do we drizzle it all over the pizza? Do we dunk our slice in it? Or was it meant to be a social experiment? Let’s watch these white people and see what they do with it. 

We always just ended up dunking our slice in, and in some weird way the two complemented one another.

A typical meal at a Korean bbq.

I ate SPAM (and liked it). 

There is a fascination with SPAM in the country. Did you know that Koreans are the third largest group of people to consume it? Yeah, me neither. But it’s so popular that gift sets of SPAM are sold during the Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok – 추석.

Korea sells SPAM gift sets during certain holidays.

In the States, SPAM was never on my shopping list. In fact, like most Americans, I had never tried the stuff until I came to the Land of SPAM the Morning Calm. And guess what? It’s not that bad. One of my favorite jigaes –찌개 (stews) had the stuff in it.

But will I go back to the States and buy it? Probably not.

Korea loves SPAM.

Koreans pronounce it SUH-PAM-UH.

I am ashamed to admit this. But I..I…I littered. 

I have a bone to pick with Korea (I also noticed this in Thailand). And that is the lack of public trash cans. So I went to Google in search of answer: Why are there no damn trash cans in Korea?!?!!

I found an answer. Apparently there were trash cans at one point, but soon businesses and restaurants were taking advantage of the public trash cans. They weren’t buying the proper trash bags, but instead putting the trash into the public trash cans. So, the country removed them all (except the ones next to the toilet). What happens when there are no trash cans? Garbage everywhere in large piles.

One chilly night, I was walking home and  I had a (cold) take-away-drink with me. The drink was gone and my hands were starting to get cold. So after we turned down an alley, I noticed there was some other trash and put it down next to the pile. I felt pretty guilty afterward.

But I promise it was the last time I ever did that.

Walking in Andong, South Korea in the fall.

I peeled grapes.

Eating grapes in Korea was a damn chore. Why? Well, another popular belief in Korea is to never eat the skin of grapes (possibly other fruit, too). I first noticed this behavior when there were grapes on a plate in the teacher’s office. And next to the plate were the sad left behinds of a grape–the skin. What the…?

I, of course, being a foreigner just ate the skin. But I went home and Googled, “What the heck is up with Koreans not eating the skin on grapes?” It apparently has to do with pesticides. But for some reason it’s okay to put the skin in the mouth to de-skin it.

The next time grapes were served for lunch, I was afraid the kids might ask why I was eating the skin. Since I didn’t want to be that weird foreigner, who eats the WHOLE grape,  I did what many Korean do–I peeled the damn skin.

I posed in so many photos with the peace sign.

I could only get away with this in Korea. It’s the country’s very own version of: “CHEEEEEEEESE!” Back home, doing the peace sign (often accompanied with puckered lips), is only acceptable for teens to do. Now that I’ve left Asia, however, the peace sign has yet to come out. I must have left it behind with the SPAM.

Giving the peace sign at Trick Eye Museum in Korea.
I doubt Korea will be the last country that rubs off on me. I’ve already been walking outside without my shoes on, eating plenty of meat pies, and even writing my dates backwards while I’ve been in New Zealand.

Are there are things you did while you were in a certain country that started to rub off on you? What were they?

SPAM photos by and . Both published under a license.


  1. says

    I know some grown women in Australia who do that peace sign in every photo. And no, they’re not Korean, or in Korea. I always wondered if they realised how it looked doing that outside of Asia!

    • Jamie says

      Eat shrimp without peeling them!? I can’t imagine that was too nice. We sometimes got served hot water in Korea, too. Maybe they just forgot to give the tea bags? 😉

    • Jamie says

      Oh, I forgot about that one! I did that a lot when I first arrived in New Zealand, but not as much anymore. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • Dan says

      I do that too sometimes, with the left hand on my right arm. The people in stores must think I’m nuts. I still do an unusual amount of bowing too when I see people at work.

  2. says

    I adore the name of your blog, and that fact that you guys want to share the good, bad, and awkward about yourselves! (though all three are relative, right?:)) I grew up in Korea and was working there the last two years as a freelance English teacher and voice actor, and I love the points you brought up! Please keep up the unique travel-blogging!

    • Jamie says

      Thank you for the wonderful comment! Reading comments like these inspire us to continue writing about our awkward travels. :) South Korea was definitely an interesting country. I didn’t think I’d miss it too much, but being gone for about six months now, I’m starting to miss it–even the SPAM!

  3. says

    All so true! I’ve given up on feeling guilty about littering… if there’s already an established pile, it’s basically a trash can, right? :p I’d also have to add something about fashion to this list… In Korea I wear mismatched patterns and materials that would never fly back home but here they just don’t care! Lace on lace with a side of polka dots? Why not? haha

    • Jamie says

      ha! You’re right about the trash can situation. I guess I don’t feel so bad now since it was an already established pile. I’m glad you mention the fashion selection. I started to entertain the idea of a having couple’s pajama set for my boyfriend and I. Sadly we never got around to doing it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  4. says

    This list is dead-on! I just finished up three years in Korea (and am actually in the process of heading to New Zealand, which is how I found your blog!), and all of the things you mentioned are sooo true! :)

    • Anxious Travelers says

      I’ve got to commend you on surviving for 3 years! We could barely manage one as it was so exhausting. Might have been easier if we were in a public school as I know that’s not as intensive. Still, there are things we miss…not so easy to get kimchi jjigae in New Zealand! Sure you’ll have a great time here as it’s pretty hard not to in honesty.


Leave a Reply