I love seoul, the food, the atmosphere and south korean people. I guess I would also be more than happy to live there. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me what the Korean people are like?
I don’t really remember what I answered but after some thinking, I think there are some general traits about korean people that could be attributed to them.
Of course, don’t get me wrong, I am not defining someone’s character based on their nationality and where they come from as a lot of nationalities share a set of character traits which are common for everyone.
But I thought it would be fun to discuss the some of the character traits that, in my opinion, are most commonly found in Koreans – it is just my perception and it is totally subjective, based on my experiences in different areas of seoul and other cities of south korea.
I can see about 15 character traits which are commonly associated with Korean people:
Trait #1 – Korean people are Technology Addicts
Korea is one of the most technologically connected nations across the globe. Wherever you go, you’ll see technology play a key role in its functionality. Let’s take the subway for example. Korea has some of the most advanced ticketing machines.
After you’ve bought your ticket and you’re waiting for your train to arrive, take a second and just look around you. Notice how many people are standing around staring at the screen of their smartphone. On top of this, once your train arrives you’ll probably see a few people with their laptops out either getting some work done or watching the most recent viral YouTube video. Besides most famous smartphone brands are Korean (Samsung, LG… )
Let’s face it, this isn’t just Korea. Nowadays, regardless of where you go in the world, there are people obsessed with their mobile phones and there’s no way to get them off of it.
Trait #2 – Lack of Green Awareness
Given that Korea is a fairly big part of the world, you might expect them to be one of the leading efforts towards bettering the environment when actually, it’s the complete opposite. Koreas lack of environmental effort which results in power outages happening regularly.
Below are some of the things that South Koreans do (subconsciously, not always on purpose) that emphasise their lack of green efforts.
- They leave lights on in their offices or at home when they leave.
- If the sun is shining and they turn on the air-conditioning, they’ll turn it up to full and will run it constantly.
- After turning the air conditioning on, they’ll leave their doors opening rendering the air conditioning useless.
- Dropping rubbish in the streets.
- Promotional flyers are everywhere (pasted to walls and dropped on the ground!)
Many Koreans have become accustomed to the lack of green awareness to the extent where they will drop rubbish on purpose, knowing that someone else will come along and pick it up anyway.
Trait #3 – Night Owl
That’s right. A lot of Koreans will stay up late having a good time and putting the fact that they have work tomorrow morning towards the back of their minds.
Straight after finishing their work for the day, they’ll head out with their friends, get something to eat, have a few drinks (and a few more), and let the night lead the way.
Fortunately for all of these late-night people, there are plenty of businesses who have taken advantage of this character trait and stay open late at night (there are even a lot of business who are 24/7!).
Even if they have work the next again norming, they can still be found out at night until the early hours.
That is one of the reasons why I like seoul. You will easily find a shop or a restaurant open at any time…which is great when you go there for vacation.
Trait #4 – Overly Emotional
In the past, a lot of different cultures have done their best to repress their emotional side but nowadays, we’re seeing people move forward and reveal their emotions. In Korea, people have always been openly emotion and have no shame in showing their emotions.
Whenever a Korean experiences emotional pain (whether it the end of a relationship or a family member dies), they don’t keep it quiet. Of course, both of these things are emotional hardships for anyone, but Koreans take their emotions to a much higher level. They are not afraid to show their emotions and I believe it is a good thing because expressing those emotions can encourage communication and give your beloved ones ( family member or partner ) a chance to address your problems.
Watch a Korean TV show – you’ll see exactly what I am talking about. After you’ve watched a Korean drama show, you’ll have a true insight into how emotional living in Korea can be.
Trait #5 – Nationalistic
Koreans are typically very proud of their countries and have a nationalistic personality – similar to that of an American.
If you are ever watching a big sporting event (whether you’re following the Olympics or staying up late watching MMA), then you’ll start to notice a pattern among the Korean winners – they all dedicate the success that they’ve had to their country.
The reason for this is that Koreans are brought up to have a mindset in which they should put their country first, and themselves second.
Did you know that all south Korean male citizens are required to serve in the military for two years between the age of 19 and 32 (whether you are famous, rich or not….). This mandatory military service called conscription is mostly perceived by korean people as a patriotic duty that reinforces korean nationalism.
Trait #6 – Neighbour Confusion
When we refer to “Neighbour Confusion” we don’t mean that Koreans literally get confused by the idea of living next to people – that’d be strange.
If we take a look at the history books then we’ll find that Korea, and their neighbouring countries, all have a lot of bad (let’s not forget the small amount of good) history between one another. Even though there is a lot of bad history between the countries, citizens simply don’t care and there are a lot of Japanese-Korean families who will stick to their Korean heritage – even if they don’t even speak the language!
On top of this, there are a lot of Koreans who will study in Japan instead of their home country, and vice versa.
If there’s one thing to learn from this trait it’s that history is just that, history. Leave it in the past, get on with your life, and get on with your “neighbours”!
Trait #7 – Don’t Be Intimidated by Their Lack of Smiling
If you’re a tourist and you’ve never been to Korea before, ignore the fact that not many Koreans will be walking around with smiles on their faces – don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean that they hate you!
Korean people are known for their generosity and being a comforting presence, even if they don’t portray these traits through their facial expressions. So, why do Koreans hold back the need to smile? As you might realise (and if not, you’ll realise by the end of this article), Koreans are a very serious culture who are constantly on their toes and have a serious attitude. Even if they mean well, you’ll rarely see a Korean smile.
So next time that you’re in Korea and you smile at someone, don’t take it personally if they don’t smile back.
Trait #8 – Pressure to Succeed
Koreans (and many other Asian cultures) are pressured by their parents to succeed in life and excel in whichever career they choose. You’ll find that even if they don’t live in Korea, Koreans will always hold this close to their heart and will do all that they can to get ahead in life.
The reason for this is that Korean mothers go out of their way to make their children successful – it’s just their nature. Early in a child’s life, mothers will enhance their educational environment so that they are learning a lot more and are getting that early step-up. A lot of parents will even strongly encourage their children to step into careers that will make other families jealous.
However, it doesn’t stop at career pressure; this pressure also extends to relationships and marriage. That’s right, Korean parents will often set up their children with their spouses which although may seem like an awkward encounter, is very common in Korea.
From an outsider’s point of view, this all might seem like a bit excessive but Koreans believe that living this way is what helped them to achieve “1st World Country” status”.
Trait #9 – Impatience
Everyone is impatient in one way or another, but Koreans consider their time very valuable and so are much more impatient than others. They even have a culture called “Ppalli Ppalli” (in English this means “Hurry Hurry!”, which revolves around the idea of getting everything done as fast as possible.
Back in the 1970’s, Korea President (Chung-hee) begun strongly urging other Koreans to prioritize being productive in their lives. With this, they saw the introduction of “Quick Service” – a delivery system designed to make sure that packages are delivered as quickly as possible.
At first glance, we all assume that being impatient is a negative trait, but in Korea, it’s seen as a part of their lives and helps them to get everything done as fast as possible. In this case, it’s a positive trait. Perhaps if some of us begun to adopt this mindset we’d have a lot of productive cultures across the globe.
Trait #10 – Respectful to Elders
This is somewhat expected across the globe, regardless of whether you’re in Korea or not, but Koreans are incredibly respectful to their elders. You might find that if you spend some time in Korea, you’ll be asked your age shortly after meeting someone for the first time. This is so that they can determine whether or not to speak to you in a polite manner or with a casual tone.
South Korean people find speaking to someone who is older than them in a casual tone disrespectful, even if you ask them to.
Following on from this, family is of utmost important to Koreans and so they follow their elder’s instructions strictly. This respect towards age is so important that if there’s even a one-year difference in age, they’ll make sure that the elder is respected properly. As we mentioned above, this is why Koreans will quickly ask your age once they’ve met you. So, if you’re ever spending some time in Korea and someone asks your age, don’t be offended!
This respect towards elders originates from Confucianism – a philosophical idea that came from China to Korea. If you have a solid understanding of Confucianism then you’ll have an easier time adapting to a Korean lifestyle.
Trait #11 – No Shame in Touching People of the Same Sex
This is one of the things that perhaps Korea are ahead of us in – being able to touch people (accidentally or on purpose) without there being a “scene”. Sure, not everyone is comfortable with being touched, but surely that shouldn’t be a reason for a hysterical argument?
In Korea, it’s completely normal for people to casually touch each other, especially if these people are the same gender. There’s no shame, no argument, and no friendships are shattered over something silly.
For example, when Korean men meet for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to shake and hold hands for a short while. In fact, it’s a sign of respect. When Korean women meet for the first time, they’ll link their arms together. In a way, it’s kind of like how children show affection to one another, isn’t it?
So you won’t be surprised to see men holding hands in the streets, or in the subway : don’t jump to conclusions by thinking they are gay.
In a lot of cultures touching can be very uncomfortable, but in Korea, it’s a way to show respect to others while also sharing an intimate moment – embrace it!
Trait #12 – Talking to Foreigners
When you are in Korea and you’re lost or are looking for a specific place, you’re going to have a harder time than you would if you were a tourist in other places.
Typically, Koreans will avoid talking to tourists and strangers so even if you’re approaching someone for some basic directions, you might find yourself being shunned and ignored – don’t take it personally, this is just how their culture works.
I think Korean people are pretty shy in general and are not confident in their English-speaking skills, so they prefer to avoid the situation and avoid the embarrassment.
This is not only the case with foreigners. If they are approached by a fellow Korean, they will do the same. In Korea, they simply avoid talking to strangers for the most part. If you are lucky, you might find someone to help you find your way about.
Trait #13 – Obsessed in Their Image
Appearance means everything in Korea. Your hairstyle, dress sense, the shoes that you’re wearing – Koreans are very judgemental regarding appearance and even they realise this, which is why they obsess over their own appearances.
Koreans get haircuts more often and will only be seen in trendy clothes, unless there’s a special occasion. It’s important to Koreans to be seen as trendy individuals and to add to this, they will go as far as getting plastic surgery to make themselves look perfect. Plastic surgery is more common in Korea than anywhere else in the world to the extent that plastic surgeons advertise everywhere – even on some of those flyers that we discussed which are scattered across the streets of Korea.
The fact that they’re obsessed with not only their own appearance but other’s appearances too, should really go to show how far the obsession goes.
Trait #14 – Homophobia
This is something which is rapidly changing across the world but in Korea, older generations are not as accepting of the LGBT community.
That being said, there are a lot of television shows who will incorporate transgender characters into the script so that they can make the show a lot more interesting.
For example, if there is a transgender woman (who has transitioned from a man to a woman) and a male character begins to fall for them, then this makes for an incredibly popular storyline – producers realise this and will completely disregard all negativity towards LGBT as a means of making a successful show.
Like we said before, anywhere that you go to you will find that the older generations are less accepting of the LGBT communities but this is quickly changing and hopefully, we will see a complete U-turn on this thought process in coming years. On the contrary, younger generations are more accepting of LGBT people.
Trait #15 – Racism
Much like Homophobia, there are still a lot of places in the world who can come across as racist (even if they don’t mean to be), but it’s a good idea to just ignore this. Keep in mind that it’s only in recent decades that different races have begun to be accepted in a lot of cultures, so don’t take it personally!
Some of my Korean friends agree that in south korea, all foreigners (other Asian people such as Japanese people, Chinese people, Indonesians.., including ‘black people’) are treated differently.
But it seems more obvious with black people. They do tend to discriminate against black people but the thing is they don’t really do it consciously. It seems that its is mostly due to the way they were raised: most Koreans are not familiar with diversity, they don’t see black people very often ( though it is getting better with more foreigners and tourists going to south korea).
If we think of it, south korea was not a very trendy destination 10 years ago… this country really got more popular thanks to their huge entertainment industry ( kpop and korean tv dramas). Who has not heard about the song by psy: Gangnam style.
To be fair, this discrimination is also pretty common across other Asian countries and not just Korea.
The only “cure” for racism is education, education about the world culture to be more precise. This is what the Korean government is currently doing through multiple cultural exchange programs.
Of course, let’s be clear, not all Korean people are like that. This is mostly the case in areas or places that are far from the city.( those where you would find fewer foreigners or tourists)
So, what do you think ? Do you agree with those traits? Is there a trait you would add or a trait you would remove?