I just got back from South Korea, and being one of the lucky few who doesn’t EVER get jet-lagged, I figured now would be a good time to start writing about my experiences.
So, without further ado, here are 5 “myths” about South Korea that should just be put to bed.
- Breakfast consists of Kimchi
Oh my! The national dish IS pretty much everywhere. Unless you go somewhere trendy, in which case you’ll be laughed at when you try to order Kimchi. “No kimchi or rice here, sorry.” Right. Anyway, whilst Koreans love the spicy fermented cabbage and will serve it as a side dish to pretty much everything, there are so many other options. I read on a forum somewhere someone complaining about not being able to find “breakfast” and ending up at McDonald’s whilst in Seoul. Seriously? It just shows they didn’t look very far.
Yes, traditionally, breakfast food is not different to any other food in Korea – and actually, in loads of countries around the world. But you CAN find breakfast – or what YOU deem acceptable brekkie food – in cities around SK. Seoul and Busan have an array of “diner” style restaurants. There are coffee shops pretty much every 10 meters, and even at guesthouses, breakfast usually consists of toasts or eggs.
- The food is way too SPICY
I might have a high tolerance for spicy food – chilly oil is a staple we can’t do without at home – but yes, Korean food is spicy, and a resounding yes to it being bearable.
In fact, most young Koreans I met were quick to tell me they can’t really stand spicy food – go figure. The problem now is to define WHAT exactly is spicy food…
- K-Pop rules
Working within the music industry, I kept my ears opened for some new exciting sounds whilst in Seoul. Guess what?! Rihanna and Zayn Malik rule Seoul. I could include a very sad and disappointed emoji here, but I haven’t gone native.
Whatever you listen to, South Koreans listen to as well. Yes, they love K-Pop, the same way the French like Patrick Bruel, Julien Doré or Noir Désir. Read here: they will still have Beyonce and Kanye West on their playlists. You just CAN’T escape it.
- Koreans are lonely
Well… you read and see so many things online, it’s easy to analyse it as a generality like “Koreans are lonely.” Truth is, I’ve seen myriads of group of friends hanging out pretty much everywhere. And I’m not only talking about teenagers coming out of school either. Groups of older women, baby-carrying moms meeting up at Starbucks, and yes, 20-somethings swarming Hongdae on a Friday night are just some of the social interactions I witnessed during my visit. The short of it? Seoulites – or Busanites – aren’t lonelier than New Yorkers or Londoners.
- People are unfriendly
I don’t know where this one comes from. Maybe it has something to do with the language barrier? I don’t speak Korean, but making the effort to say “hello” and “thank you” in the language goes a long way to get people to “open up.” Younger people will be super happy to meet foreigners and help, if needed. But they’re not alone!
Visiting Changdeokgung Palace’s Secret Garden – where you need a tour – I found myself in a Korean group, because, of course, I just decided to pop by and see whether it was possible… whilst I understood NOTHING of what the guide was saying, it was still worth it for the sheer beauty of the place. But I also got to witness first hand how friendly and eager to chat Koreans are. Even though they KNEW I didn’t understand anything, it didn’t stop some old men to try and have a chat/ point things out to me. They spoke and gestured, and weirdly, I kind of got the drift. So I’d smile or nod, and they laughed and nodded back. Language barrier: 0 – Sarah – 1.
All this to say: don’t believe what you read or hear! Go and check it out for yourself. Chances are, you’ll be surprised – or not, depending on how much preparation you actually did before…