In September 2014, I went on a 10-day vacation to Seoul. I didn’t find it too difficult to adjust to city life there, actually, and didn’t face any huge cultural hurdles. But I did notice some quirky trends that I thought I’d share! Here are nine random things I noticed while out and about in Seoul.
- Horizontal stripes. In the world of men and women’s fashion, the pattern of the season was horizontal stripes. Stripes of all colors, in fact, but the most popular seemed to be white and navy blue. WHYYYY. Pretty much 80% of the twenty-somethings we encountered were wearing horizontal stripes. Now, I’m a bit on the curvy side so I’ve always avoided horizontal stripes (my hips and derriere really don’t need any more attention drawn to them heh) but Theo LOVES them so… now I own blue-and-white stripey shirts. Guh. A very… uh… helpful shopkeeper in Migliore informed me that it was currently in style for young women to wear over-sized striped shirts tucked baggily into a pair of micro shorts. Guess who’s not going to dress like that ever?
- Illegal U-turns. Think this only happens in Korean dramas? Think again – IT HAPPENED TO US. We were heading to lunch in Myeongdong and the driver and I were chatting quite happily (he was speaking 사투리 which was kinda scary!) and suddenly he just guns it. Wrenches the wheel in the middle of a two-way street and does a U-turn to get to the restaurant on the opposite side of the road. Granted, we took the taxi only twice the entire time we were in Seoul so we have no idea how frequently this happens…. Most of the time it’s not even physically possible because there’s so much traffic!
- Coffee, coffee EVERYWHERE. I can think of absolutely NO logical reason for there to be as many cafes as there are in Seoul. Is it the population density? Are there really that many people and that much demand that all cafes manage to be somewhat profitable? I dunno. As a consumer, I think it’s great (albeit baffling) because no matter where you are in Seoul, there’s probably a cafe within a few paces from where you’re standing where you can get your caffeine fix. And it’s nice to be able to go into any cafe to meet up with friends and know that it’s not going to be unbearably loud or crowded. Most cafes have just the right steady-state of people going and coming for it to be comfortable enough to study in or work from. And most importantly, there’s almost never a struggle to find a spare power outlet.
- Couple-sized desserts. Oh woe is the soul who is single in Seoul. I have never been in a place that so thoroughly makes me aware of my relationship status – and I’m not even single! One thing Theo and I realized was that the general cost of desserts/smoothies/sweets/etc. were much pricier than we thought they’d be. That’s because 8 out of 10 times, ‘one’ dessert item is sufficient to feed two. (Actually this doesn’t apply to just desserts – even entrees at some places are proportioned so as to satisfy you and one other special someone).
- 셀카봉/Selfie sticks. Improve your selfie-taking experience by using one of these contraptions. So they’re not strictly Korean but, let’s be real, I don’t think any other country has gotten the art of taking selfies down like South Korea. Literally every stall in Namdaemun, every gift shop, and any other random place you can think of sold these things. (If you’re thinking of getting one in Korea, you may find this post useful.) We… didn’t bother getting one. I think we only took 3-4 selcas the entire time we were in Korea. At Coex Aquarium, we even asked another couple to take a photo of us together. Gasp!! One thing that surprised us was the lack of instant cameras. Theo bought a Fujifim Instax before our trip and – for whatever stereotypical reason – we both thought they’d be really popular in Korea? Not so much. The couple who took our photo at Coex Aquarium were delighted when offered them a photo.
- Keypad locks. I was pleasantly surprised to see that our Airbnb apartment didn’t have a front door key – it used a keypad lock. (Speaking of which, isn’t it a Korean drama cliche that an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend can break into the other’s apartment by using his/her birth date as the keypad combination?) Having JUST had the experience of locking myself out of my apartment, I really wish I had a keypad lock to my own place. The one thing we didn’t know is that after the four-digit code, you press (*) to unlock from the outside. That tripped us up when we first got to the place, but Theo (who’s way more in-tune with electronics than I’ll ever be) eventually figured it out.
- Parasols. Best way to keep cool on a muggy, sunny Seoul day? Parasols! I saw tons of people (mostly 아줌마s) carrying around beautiful paper parasols to ward off the midday sun. If, like us, you decide to trek around Bukchon in the middle of the afternoon in late summer, I highly recommend getting a parasol. When I went to school in Texas, I used to unabashedly carry around an umbrella in the summer. I regret not buying my own pretty parasol in Seoul.
- 명품. This is such an interesting word – it’s a catch-all term for brand-name, luxury goods. And people are really into luxury goods in Seoul. One thing that surprised me was the absolute craze people have for duty free goods. Go to the top floor of Lotte Department store, for example, and you can have your pick of duty free brand-name handbags, jewelry, sunglasses, shoes, and a bunch of other expensive things. Speaking of department stores, we spent a lot of time exploring all the major ones in Seoul – Lotte, Coex, Galleria, Shinsegae…. And for people who can’t afford new items (ahem – me), if you walk around Gangnam and Apgujeong, you can find tons of stores selling used high-fashion goods (that are still ridiculously expensive).
- Complicated garbage. Gah taking out the trash is SO DIFFICULT in Korea. Recycling isn’t just about sorting into compostables, paper, and glass. In the apartment we were staying in, we had to sort out glass bottles, cans, papers, food waste, plastic bags, cardboard and other stuff into separate bins. Needless to say, I was the one who had the responsibility of taking out the trash because I was the one who could read Korean. When I asked the security guard where the garbage area was, he pointed me in the right direction, and then eyed me as I sorted the trash out appropriately. I didn’t get yelled at so I’m assuming I did it right. Heh. Want to know why trash is so complicated in Korea? Check out this excellent post on Seoulistic.
Well, that about covers the 9 main things that really stood out to me while I was in Korea. I’m sure I missed plenty of other trends!
Gosh. Writing this post really makes me miss Seoul.