I came to South Korea filled with American misconceptions about the country I had chosen to inhabit for one year. Perhaps they weren’t specific to America, but they were definitely incorrect. Here are a few of the myths I have found to be absolute fact about South Korea.
- People definitely DO eat dog. I know. I vehemently defended Korea back in the states, little did I know I was championing a lost cause. Dog-eating may be less common in affluent areas of Seoul, but most of my students claim dog soup is “delicious” or a “summer treat.” Gaejangguk is the name I hear them use for it.
- South Koreans really don’t give a crap about North Korea. Everyone in America emails me with desperate warnings about missile crises as per CNN. However, when I asked about the heightened state of friction between the two countries, my Korean co-teacher replied, “We are, um, immune to North Korea” and went back to work.
- Every South Korean male is required, before the age of 40, to enroll in the military for a mandatory two year term. They can escape this fate by winning a gold medal in the Olympics (and some other random exclusions).
- Drinking is the national hobby. Everyone drinks, a lot, all the time. And if you finish your drink at dinner, expect it to be refilled over and over until you’re on the floor pleading “no more soju!” It took me a few dinners with Koreans to realize you just have to leave the cup half-full if you don’t want to drink anymore. It’s rude to refuse outright, but they won’t refill your glass if it has a respectable halfway level. Here is a good list of Korean drinking rules.
- Gangnam Style is WAY MORE popular here than in America. So just… let that sink in. Seriously, Psy is advertising everything from cell phones to ramyeon — and there is no sign of his popularity waning as he also judges a popular American Idol type show in Korea. What I am trying to say is that dancing to Gangnam Style in a Korean bar is tantamount to the sort of obligation one might feel when a line dancing song plays at the honky tonk and all your drunk friends know you know the moves.
- Karaoke isn’t just a thing in Korea, it’s THE THING. It’s a goddamn sport! (No seriously, you get a score at the end) Noraebang (private Korean karaoke room) at 3 AM is a perfectly acceptable night cap. The night is simply not over until you have screamed the lyrics to Creed’s “My Sacrifice” while your friends hit the tambourine off-beat and a weird video of Korean people running through a snowy field plays in the background. Did I mention the disco ball?
- Engrish is both hilarious and commonplace. I have seen SO MANY inappropriate t-shirts and weirdly constructed interpretations of English colloquialisms.
That’s all I can think of right now, but I am sure more will come to me. After all, South Korea is a fascinating place.