And we’re back with another edition of TL;DR Thursdays. This week we’re asked “What are some things that you SHOULD NOT do in Korea?”

Well, the easy answer at first is anything bad. Don’t do bad things. Don’t know what qualifies as a bad thing? You can try using the Ten Commandments as a springboard, or maybe read the news for a bit and pay attention to the things that get people arrested. Don’t do those things.

And now that we’re done being smartasses, let’s really try answering the question!

Now, we could have taken the approach of “Korean cultural lessons to learn” but we wanted to something that isn’t always talked about in travel books. Stuff that you kind of have to do before you figure out it’s wrong. So here we go!

1) Walk into a place with your shoes on:

No Shoes indoors in Korea

Take off your shoes, OR FACE THE WRATH!

I think the best way we heard this described is that Western culture is very table and chair oriented, while Asian culture is more floor and mat oriented. People sleep on the floor on thin mats, and eat on the floor on really low tables. Sure, not all of Korea sleeps and eats on the floor, but it happens here A LOT more than it happens back in Canada. And so, since a lot is done on the floor, keeping the floor clean is quite important.

And so, no shoes are worn inside the house. At the front foyer you take off your shoes, and then have slippers for around the house, but you don’t bring outside dirt inside. Nope. Big, big no no. We mentioned in the video how we were scolded for wearing shoes in our own apartment, right after we got off our plane and were totally exhausted. That doesn’t matter. JUST TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES!

2) Talk loudly on the bus or subway:

Quiet on the bus in Korea

Stop talking so loud! You'll piss everyone off!

This is something we got used to very quickly in Korea. Within our first few months of living in Korea we learned to not be so noisy on some buses. Not that we throw a party or anything. We just talk and laugh normally. Supposedly, though, when you’re on a bus or subway that doesn’t have a lot of people taking, it’s meant to be quiet time. This is news to me. If I want to talk on the subway or 1 hour bus ride with my husband, wife, or friends, I feel like I should be able to, but in Korea many old people will start scolding. I feel like a child being scolded by my grandma for stealing a cookie. Also, if you take any of the red intra-city buses, there will even be a message before you get on the highway telling you to turn off your cellphone ringers.

We didn’t know this upon first coming to Korea, and were shushed a few times. At first we got butthurt and defensive about it, and thought that it was because we were foreigners that we got shushed, but then, when different people told us to shush, and we didn’t see anyone else on the buses really talking loudly, that’s when we put it together. Oops! That is, unless you’re an older man or woman (ajussi or ajumma). They can talk loudly and get away with it. They’re old people, and won’t be told what to do.

3) Sit in the elderly/pregnant/sick seats on the subway:
Those are reserved for the elderly. Supposedly they’re also reserved for pregnant and sick people, but we haven’t really seen anyone but the elderly sit there. We’ve been told by some Korean friends that, when they were really sick once and they sat there, they were scolded profusely. We’ve even read of pregnant people being shooed away from the seats so that the elderly can sit there.

Bottom line, don’t sit there unless you’re really old. Or you’re passed out drunk and unable to accept the scolding. Damn. Old people in Korea can be scary sometimes.

4) Stick your chopsticks into rice and leave them there:

So this is a big faux pas that not many people know about. Now, not all Korean families do this, but when they visit the graves of their loved ones, they might leave an offering of rice with chopsticks stuck in them, or sometimes they burn incense (which looks similar to chopsticks). If you stick your chopsticks in your rice at the table, you’re acting like you’re at a graveyard, so you’re either telling the other person, “hey, you’re dead, here is your rice” or “I don’t like you, DIE!!!!!!”. Now I personally have never done this nor have I seen this happen at a dining table, but it’s probably best to avoid doing it.

5) Call people over with your hands incorrectly:

Hamster Hands

Martina thinks you should look like a Hamster. Simon begs to differ.

We did a video a loooong time ago on Korean Hand Gestures. Man, that’s a really old video. Don’t watch it…OooOoOH! Look at Martina’s long hair! Anyhow, that video will show you a bit more of what we’re talking about. When you call someone over, be it a waiter or a taxi or a student, do so with your palm facing downwards. Seems odd at first, but it’s the non-rude way to do so. Some Korean students have been insulted by their foreign teacher as the teacher didn’t realize calling them over like that was rude. Martina thinks that you should look like a hamster, but that’s probably because she loves hamsters. She had two dwarf hamsters back in Canada when we first started dating (Bear and Moka, R.I.P), has stuffed hamster toys here, and said in our WTF Contest that she would smuggle in hamsters. Is anyone noticing a pattern here?

Smokey the Bear Likes Foreigners

If the bear says it, you must obey

I think our finally conclusion here today is this: Treat Korean old people as if they were in the mafia, and Martina is addicted to hamsters.

If there are anymore “wrong” things you guys have experienced, share the love! In the wise words of Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent foreigners from getting scolded. Well, he might not have ever said that, but we’re sure that he’d agree. If he could agree, that is. Bears don’t really hold many opinions about foreigners, and probably not many about fires as well. Their only opinions are to murder and eat you. Bears aren’t friendly and don’t wear hats. Remember that.

  1. VA is pretty great in certain places..

  2. Does this mean you both plan on living in Korea FOREVEEEEEERRRRR!? (Because Simon saying he wanted to be an ahjussi, which is being an elder in Korea)

  3. Could you do one about being judged because your a foreigner? Weither it be that you gather many koreans attention,Or that you were mis-judged. ( Not saying that Koreans are like that)

  4. I know this is a bad generalization, why do koreans eat loud?

  5. I’m actually more surprised about the elderly seat than anything else. I mean, we have that too in Italy but no one really care about it since of course when you see an elderly or a pregnant woman or someone who obviously need it more than you do, you would give your seat. And wherever you’re seating, not just if you are in the reserved seat. I think this is just well manner lol.

    And about the shoes thing, I’m not asian but I like to walk barefoot at home, and I always get scolded for that (by my mum, dad, sister, ortophedic doctor -.-)… I think I was born in the wrong side of the world lol

  6. Is the proper way to wave someone over in Korea the same as it is in Japan? Because the Maneki Neko (which is Japanese) makes the exact same “scooping” gesture. 

  7. Do you have to drink alcohol if you live in South Korea? It often seem like it! 

  8. The chopstick thing I think is common in most asian culture (I know that it’s also considered rude in Japan, and over here in Taiwan). Taiwan also has the no speaking on buses or subways-they actually have signs saying don’t talk on subways, and if you get a phone call-that you should only talk for 5-10 mins. The shoe thing is also here as well, and the hand gestures are kinda the same-calling taxis (and even buses) is more like North America-you know you raise your arm and say Taxi (except here they don’t say anything, they just raise their arm.)

  9. Simon, I just wanted you to know that when you refer some aspect of your behavior or body part as “manly”, you are saying people who doesn’t have your oversized parts are “not manly”.  Since you are in Korea were most mens don’t even come close to looking like you, you are also suggesting that Korean men aren’t as “manly” as you, and that make your statements sounds racist.  Generally you guys are good at avoiding common white people racist languages, but I’d really wish you’d stop saying this kind of crap.

  10. You never know whats at the bottom of people’s shoes

  11. hum.. the shoe thing is here in Estonia too.. (if you even know where it is xD) but its kinda like a obvious thing to me. You go home, enter, take your shoes off and do whatever u do.. lol Same is with visiting someone… but the only difference is that at restaurants people dont take them off. I dunno, at home its kinda like keeping your home clean, visiting someone its also the same reason and when you dont do it it might be considered rude OR they will just politely ask you to remove them. Imagine someone coming to your home and carrying all the dirt and stuff to your living room… i’d murder that person o.o

  12. this sucks im the loudest person i know i make madea seem quiet

  13. I think many Asian cultures do the “take your shoe off!” thing. 
    And it’s the total opposite in Hong Kong with the loud voices and subway seat thing. In Hong Kong people are literally screaming at each other everywhere especially in restaurants. Of course the way Cantonese sounds doesn’t help either. It’s also really crowded in subways so there are no chances of finding a seat especially for foreigners (I am Chinese but I don’t live in Hong Kong). And even if people are pregnant, old, or handicapped nobody gets up for them. Most people just stare at their phones, iPod, iTouch, iPad, whatever…and they have really good balance when the subway stops. I fell over once or twice or maybe more… 

  14. It’s the same custom thing as Japan.. well, i guess it’s because Korea-Japan are neighbors anyway.
     In Indonesia,my country, I think there’s no rule about you can’t talk to each other(or on the phone) loudly in public transportation, but you definitely will get some glare that states you’re disturbing the other passengers. So it’s the best thing not to talk loudly.And we have the same custom about  taking off your shoes before you walk in the house and you have to change it into sandals(even barefoot ),but from where I see it only occurs for family members or close friend of the home owner.  When it comes having guest in their house, I’ve seen most families will prevent the guest from taking off their shoes when they come into the house.They’re like, ‘Please, don’t take your shoes off. Our house is dirty’  when a guest are about to take off their shoes despite the fact that their house is actually clean.

  15. wth, korean people here in the philippines always talk so loud! even if they’re in the library or inside a coffee shop where ur suppose to not speak so loud because of other people who might b having meetings and stuff, to them their volume is normal but for d people inside its like their screaming at each other! we’ve encountered it a lot of times already.. but in their country its a big no-no, da hell..

  16. wth, korean people here in the philippines always talk so loud! even if they’re in the library or inside a coffee shop where ur suppose to not speak so loud because of other people who might b having meetings and stuff, to them their volume is normal but for d people inside its like their screaming at each other! we’ve encountered it a lot of times already.. but in their country its a big no-no, da hell..

    • More than 3 Koreans in a group = no one else exists

      I have only been asked to be quiet once. He asked my husband to tell me to speak more quietly. I was speaking loudly because everyone else in the restaurant was so loud. I then couldn’t hear anything over his girlfriend’s voice…. My husband and I tend to eat in silence when it’s noisy – I attract attention with my white-ness and he has a slight hearing problem!!

  17. ooh good video… the chopsticks in rice and the shoe thing is a very big deal here in hawaii. it’s also really funny that i’m the only person that i know of that calls people over palm down. o_o

  18. people in Singapore always sit on the reserved seats for the pregnant women and elderly and talking loudly in public or on buses are common and i do it a lot, the thing about taking off ur shoes is also a must in our houses, cos we come back with dirt and etc. on them 

  19. Can you two do a video about categorizing people
    through their blood type in korea? Cause I know Korean always ask when they
    meet someone new ‘’what is your blood type?’’ they believe that certain blood
    type have certain characteristics. Just wanna see what you two think about and
    did you two have any personal experiences can share with us.

  20. You should do the TLDR about drinking and other hand gestures and things XD
    I want to know why fandoms are so important in Korea… I don’t really understand XD

  21. lol at the no saying bad things about suju. though even in the international fandom, u say something bad about them then a lot elfs will come at u… but the same can be said for other bands that have huge fandoms.

  22. I have this question, I have been wondering to myself…..

    How tall are you guys? ;o

  23. After my first experience in Korea, I started to pay more attention to behavior on the Boston subway.  On the way home from work one day, all the weary commuters were riding in silence.  Then, at one stop, a group of teenage chums got on, loudly gossiping and laughing and shooting the breeze.  The whole car instantly swiveled their heads towards the youngsters and shot them hateful death stares.

    Then I realized (and you can observe this in Korea) that people’s behavior on public transit largely depends on where they’re going and why.  Commuters just want to get to work/home in peace.  On the other hand, groups of friends of any age going out in their leisure time tend to be louder and more talkative – Koreans included.

    So despite Koreans’ generalized dislike for loud talking on public transit, I suspect that grumpy commuters vs. joyriders is the bigger dichotomy, and one which somewhat transcends culture.

  24. i noticed the hand gesture of calling people over in korean dramas and I got into the awesome habit of doing it the polite way, even though I don’t have to! <3

  25. the “chopstick” thing , the”no shoes on floor” , “talk loudly in public transit” are totally the SAME as “NOT TO DO in JAPAN”!!  In Japan even old person will not talk loudly on phone at train or bus, instead everyone use text message SMS!!

  26. but it’s like that anywhere isn’t it, for the shoes? i would never walk in my place with my shoes on unless i was in a huge hurry and couldn’t take them off. We just don’t have those slippers :P At least in Canada. Apparently Americans always walk in the house with shoes (thanks to tv shows lol)

    • It is NEVER okay to wear your shoes in someone’s house unless you are told it is okay. We generally ask, “Should I take off my shoes?” It is considered polite. Think about how embarrassing it would be to wear your shoes in a friend’s house and they have to ask you to take them off.

      This drives me nuts!! TV land is not reality! I have to constantly explain this to every non-American I meet.

      Americans DO NOT wear shoes inside unless there is a reason (shoes are clean and kept in a different room, it is a party, you are running inside for one thing and may still be yelled at by other occupants, etc.)

      Yes, I am an American. 

      • I actually think this is regional.  There was a clash in my own family when my cousins were of the “No shoes in the house!” variety, while the rest of the family were of the “My shoes come off when I’m sleeping or dead”  variety.  There was much private buzzing and grumbling when the cousins insisted that everyone take their shoes off.  However, in that particular part of the state, no shoes in the house was the expected and cultural norm.  Once you left that area though, it was FAR more common for people to wear their shoes in the house than not.  

    • omg when i got out of high school and visited a friend on the mainland, i had just realized that taking off your shoes is not a normal thing…

      you have no idea how baffled i was.
      the only thing different was we would go barefoot or in socks; no indoor footwear.

    • yeah most Americans wear shoes in their house LOL I do too, but I usually wear flip flops or something that I haven’t worn outside at all or very often because I don’t like walking barefoot through our house. The floors get dirty very quickly in my house lol

  27. what happens when you go to a friends house and take off your shoes but they don’t have enough slippers for you to wear or you just bring your own slippers with you


  29. I have definitely talked too loud on the subway/bus before. I was never scolded though thankfully. I wonder where that comes from because I’ve been on a lot of public transportation in Asia and other areas of the world and I don’t remember any of them being like Korea. Although in Taiwan you can’t have food or drinks on the subway…..other than water. 

    • come to Hong Kong and China and you’ll be fine to talk freely on cellphone anytime on all the  buses, trains and tram! You’ll be amazed some peoples just speak so loud on the phone in the public transit!

  30. OH NO~!!!!! i need to get the rest of my family and friends to watch Simon and Martina OR ELSE~!!!! lol <3 you guys ^^

  31. LAMO.. at the way to call people. When I watched Cinderella Sister, i really wondered why he was calling her in that way. Then I said maybe he was trying to be so romantic. But after watching this,  thanks I got the point. This is just in Korea.. lol

  32. Beacuse if you do do those things people will glare at you in Seoul. I tell from experience being a foreigner in Seoul- people will glare and in-not-so kindly-voice tell you to remove your shoes. In regards to sitting in the elder/pregnant women section I saw an ajumma yelling in a really loud voice to a girl who was seated in that section and didn’t move fast enough for the ajumma to sit down. In general do as the famous quote states “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. Remember you’re in their country and should follow their rules even if some are different than what you’re used to. =)

  33. I live in Canada and I, as well as the rest of the fam take their shoes off when they enter the house. hahaha. I guess it’s more of … “aaahhhhh please take of your shoes off or you will ruin my carpet!”. :) but that’s just me.

  34. I think the shoe thing applies to Asia in general. Nearly all the Asian American (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.) people I know, myself included, take off their shoes in the house. To me, even the thought of wearing regular shoes in one’s home is sort of… Well, no. Just, no.

    #4 & #5 apply to Japan as far as I know and #2 & #3 SHOULD apply to everywhere as far as I’m concerned. (Without the rude scolding for the innocently unaware & unfair exceptions, of coarse.) Really, offering seats to elderly/disabled/etc. & not being obnoxious on public transportation SHOULD be a common courtesy, but I see very little of it on our buses here in LA…

  35. Simon & Martina ~ I’ve been wanting to know whether I can teach in Korea with a 2 year college diploma and TESOL certificate. Will it be harder to get jobs cause of not having a university degree?

  36. Can anyone explain why you shouldn’t do those 5 things??
    Because i am from Cyprus and we don’t have those!! Well, only the bus seats for elderly/pregnant but if you seat and noone needs it nobody will yell at you but if an elderly or pregnant enters you should stand up but for courtesy!!

    • Beacuse if you do do those things people will glare at you in Seoul. I tell from experience being a foreigner in Seoul- people will glare and in-not-so kindly-voice tell you to remove your shoes. In regards to sitting in the elder/pregnant women section I saw an ajumma yelling in a really loud voice to a girl who was seated in that section and didn’t move fast enough for the ajumma to sit down. In general do as the famous quote states “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. Remember you’re in their country and should follow their rules even if some are different than what you’re used to. =)

  37. You guys are SUPER hilarious!
    Thanx for the tips :)

  38. Hmm…
    I don’t recall “Thou shalt not speak badly of Super Junior” being in the Ten Commandments, but, ok…

  39. So THATS why you shouldn’t stick your chopsticks like that!
    its like that in China too, apparently…

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