Seoul is a densely populated city in South Korea. It’s 10 million residents squeeze into 233 square miles. Compare this with New York’s 8.4 million residents within 305 square miles to get a sense of the crowds.
In a city with so many people, it helps to have some conformity and living etiquette. But my husband and I were surprised at the high level of “rule following” among residents in the country. Here are 7 unique facts about Seoul Korea based on my observations. Most are characteristics that seem to have evolved from the dense population.
7 Unique Facts About Seoul Korea
1. Lack of Trash Cans
The streets of Seoul are barren of trash cans. You are expected to hold on to your trash and dispose of it at home. If you litter, don’t be surprised when you get scolded.
Households and businesses pay for each bag they fill and throw away. Therefore, Koreans are careful to recycle and reuse. Now I understand why my mom rinses paper towels and dries them at the kitchen sink for re-use!
I’m sure part of the city’s cleanliness is due to Korea’s efforts to prepare for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Regardless, Seoul is immaculate! I feel we in the US could learn a few things by adopting some of Korea’s conservation practices.
2. Restaurants are Skimpy on the Napkins
At restaurants, you’ll generally receive one paper napkin the size of a small square about the size of your palm. My husband and I were astonished during a meal out when we watched a server spill food on my cousin, run over to get something to clean it up only to return with one small square napkin. He then proceeded to rip only 1/3 off to give him! We thought, “Is this a joke?” The reason for the sparse napkins is due to the city’s strict trash rules.
3. Bathrooms are Taken Seriously
Koreans mean business when it comes to using the bathroom.
Most homes and any decent hotel will have bidets built into the toilets. They have all kinds of functions including heated seats, variable water temperature and strength of water spray! They even have dryers. Bidets are argued to be more sanitary than using toilet paper. Now that I’ve been exposed to this form of sanitation, I see their point. When our hands get dirty, we don’t just wipe them with paper towels. We wash them!
Public restrooms are immaculate. They usually have a full-time attendant cleaning up and replenishing supplies. Many stalls have “courtesy buttons” that make a toilet flush noise to spare others from hearing bowel movements!
The US may be behind Korea on bathroom etiquette.
4. South Korea is Extremely Safety-Minded
Anything that could be potentially dangerous has safety barriers around it.
Our apartment hotel at Orakai Suites had walls of double paned windows just outside the sliding glass doors (the sealed-in “deck” I’m told is used to dry clothing or for storage). Common spaces near windows on higher levels were barricaded off with decor or dividers to prevent people from getting too close. The subway rails have floor-to-ceiling doors that automatically open and close when trains arrive. There are signs everywhere that say “stand back,” “mind the gap,” “dangerous,” “slippery.”
My husband and I couldn’t help but wonder if this level of safety consciousness is due to the high suicide rate among high schoolers and seniors. Korea’s university landscape is extremely competitive. Its educational environment seems to be 10x more competitive than the US. Can you imagine? And there is barely any governmental aid for poor seniors, leading to hopelessness and depression.
5. Pollution is a Problem
Many Koreans wear face masks when they are outdoors due to the ultrafine dust that permeates the city. Air quality in Seoul is among the worst in the world. The air pollution is partly due to China’s pollutants carried over to Korea but also due to vehicle emissions and coal-powered industrial sites in Korea.
6. There is a Large Underground World in Seoul
Seoul has 3200 underground bomb shelters built in case of attacks by North Korea. Over the years, many of these shelters have transformed into a massive underground world of transportation, shopping, and entertainment. Seoul has one of the most advanced subway systems in the world as well as malls, Universities, and venues underground. The whole city connects through its metro, and an underground grocery store is on almost every block.
7. Gift Giving is Important
Koreans give gifts for everything. It is rude if you don’t. Any special meet up, occasion, thank you or visiting a guest’s home warrants a gift. And if the celebration is on your behalf, you’re expected to pay. So expect to foot the bill for your birthday dinners, promotion, having a baby or any life event if you’re living in Korea!
What do you think about these 7 unique facts about Seoul Korea I observed during my visit? Does it surprise you? I’d love to get your thoughts! If this topic interests you, visit my post on the Must See Sights in South Korea