Who here is planning to go to Korea? If so, you may want to prepare by learning some interesting facts about South Korea before you embark on your journey!
Not long ago, Korea was a small, developing nation closed off to much of the world. However, these days that is rapidly changing and has become a very popular tourist destination due to its rich history and amazing food scene (among other things).
Korea has definitely been getting an increasing amount of publicity around the world. In Asia, it’s a lot about K-pop, cosmetics, and Korean dramas. In the West, we often hear news about their neighbors up North. People all around the world hear about Korea’s love for plastic surgery. All of these factors have led to a greater interest in Korea, and also studying the Korean language. Besides the reasons for Korea’s fame, there are a lot of unique facts that you don’t hear about until you are actually experiencing everyday life here. Below are 24 interesting facts about South Korea that may surprise you!
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We realize that a lot of people who read this may be interested in learning some Korean. Therefore in addition to each fact, we have added in one key vocabulary that relates to that point. If you can’t read 한글 (Korean alphabet) yet, you can learn it for free in about one hour by downloading a free guide here.
South Korea Fact #1: Are You My (Blood) Type?
Similar to their next-door neighbors in Japan, Koreans think that there is some significance to their blood type. While people in other countries may or may not know their blood type, every Korean certainly does know his or hers! In Korea, blood types are thought to contribute to a person’s personality and characteristics.
Additionally, blood types can used to help choose a spouse since your partner’s blood type may not be a good match for yours. For example, Type B females should look for Type O males. Type AB males will also do, but stay away from Type A’s! While not everyone believes in this, expect to hear about it while you’re in Korea.
For those who want to study Korean, you can ask someone’s blood type by asking about their 혈액형 (blood type). It’s just one of many phrases you’ll want to say to your potential partner.
South Korea Fact #2: Happy Birthday + 1!
When Koreans are born, they’re automatically one year old. There are different schools of thought as to why this is. One explanation is that people think it’s because the baby is in the mother’s womb for 9 months, which is about 1 year. Therefore the baby is 1 year old when born.
The method for calculating this is a little tricky since it can vary with the lunar calendar, solar calendar, and your birthday. The simplest way to answer the age question in Korea is to just tell them the year you were born. If you want to use a simple Korean age calculator, this formula should do the trick:
(Current year – your birth year) + 1 = Your Korean age
(2017 – 1985) + 1 = 33 years old
(2017 – 1991) + 1 = 27 years old
South Korea Fact #3: Fan Death
There is an urban legend in Korea that electric fans that are left on while you are sleeping in a room with the windows and door closed can cause death. It is believed that the fan can lower the body temperature and cause hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature).
Koreans also believe that the fast moving air caused by the fan makes it difficult to breathe, causing people to choke. Because of these beliefs, automatic shutoff timers on fans in Korea are seen as a life-saving feature. Not all Koreans believe this, but for the one’s that do, it’s best to not try to sway them. Even if you are able to scientifically or logically prove your point, you’re still likely to be doubted. Best to steer clear of the fan death topic all together.
Study the Korean word 선풍기사망설 (fan death) if you want to know the right word for this phenomenon! It’s just one of many Korean urban legends.
South Korea Fact #4: Largest Drinkers in Asia
It’s said that when Koreans try something, they go hard at it. Football (soccer), spicy food, and definitely drinking! Many are surprised to see that Koreans are the top drinkers in Asia by far. Korea actually has a strong drinking culture. According to the World Health Organization, they consume an average of 12.3L of alcohol per year, and are ranked #17 in the world!
Koreans drink more alcohol per person per year, than Germany, the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and Australia! A big contributor to this esteemed award is the consumption of soju. Soju is usually around 19% alcohol content and is commonly drunk with main meals.
Have you had a long night out in Korea? If you’re out at a restaurant in Korea and you want to study Korean, look for the word 해장국 (hangover soup). This is one of many Korean hangover cures!
South Korea Fact #5: The North and South Are Still at War
Although we often hear news about the possible threats from North Korea, most South Koreans don’t think much of it. While living here, it almost feels like it’s a completely safe situation. The two Koreas may not be battling it out on a day-to-day basis, but they still haven’t made up. In 1953, the two sides agreed to a truce. However, as you head to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone border), you’ll notice that there is still quite a bit of tension there. Despite this, South Korea is still surprisingly safe.
You can add to your Korean study vocabulary with the use of the word 비무장지대 (DMZ).
South Korea Fact #6: The DMZ Wildlife Haven
The Demilitarized Zone is a 4km wide by 248km long stretch of land that separates the North from the South on the Korean peninsula. While most of the natural wildlife and rare plants have been killed off in the South, the DMZ hasn’t been touched in over 60 years. That means that unique species of plants and wild animals have been able to flourish, unharmed by the hand of man.
Photographers have been able to enter the DMZ and take photos of flora and fauna that existed long before the peninsula became heavily populated with people. If the two Koreas are ever united, there has been talk of making the DMZ a peace park to continue to preserve the wildlife. Unfortunately, some South Koreans are indifferent to what happens to the DMZ. With soaring house pricing in Seoul, it’s a possibility that the area would be demolished to build more apartment complexes.
An easy word to add to your Korean study material is 아파트 (apartment), which also sounds like the word “apartment.”
South Korea Fact #7: Valentines Day Is For Guys
Just when you thought there were enough Hallmark holidays, South Korea upped the ante and introduced “White Day”. White Day is essentially another Valentines Day, held a month later on March 14th. The interesting thing about this holiday is that Valentine’s Day is a day where the males receive chocolate from females, while girls receive sweets on White Day. Mark your calendars and brush up on your Valentines language, that is one day you don’t want to make a mistake with your significant other!
You can brush up on your Konglish Korean study by learning the word 화이트데이 (White Day).
South Korea Fact #8: Couples at Christmas, Families at New Year
For many people around the globe, Christmas is a time to return back to your hometown and spend time with family. New Years, on the other hand is typically a party environment spent with friends at a pub, club, or house party. Korea is almost the opposite. Koreans spend their Christmas day with their significant other. It’s not that critical that they see their families on this day.
While New Year’s IS celebrated, it’s not a huge celebration. Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year, and is celebrated in the first two months of the year (depending on the lunar calendar). Around this time, a large percentage of Koreans travel to their hometowns to visit family. If you’re planning to do any road trips around that time, make sure to factor in a few extra hours of road time!
설날 (Lunar New Year) is a common word in Korea, so it’s a good word to know when you study Korean!
South Korea Fact #9: Titles Over Names
One interesting fact about South Korea that often gets confused is when to use names or titles. Korean culture is very hierarchical, much of it based on age. Only in specific situations are you allowed to call someone by their first name. Otherwise, you need to refer to them by title. At the workplace, this can be somewhat confusing, especially if you’re managing someone who is older than you.
This is also the case for home and family life. Getting the titles right is critical, and can be a point of strife if family members don’t recognize rank. The good news is that these situations make for great drama storylines. Just when you thought that discovering your long-lost twin brother while battling through amnesia wasn’t enough, you get some bonus conflict!
If you’re looking for the word for “title” as you study Korean, check out 호칭 (title).
South Korea Fact #10: Tetraphobia
In case you’re not up on your phobia lingo, tetraphobia means to avoid the number four. As in other parts of Asia, 4 is an unlucky number in Korea. Therefore, in elevators you’ll often see floors 1, 2, 3, and F. Apartments that have numbers with multiple 4s (ex. 404) are often avoided, and the property values are lower. The reason behind this is that the word for 4 in Korean is similar to the word for death.
The number “four” in Korean is 사, which also means “death”. A two-birds-with-one-stone Korean study word!
South Korea Fact #11: Spam Gifts
Shortly after the Korean War, there were few refrigerators or protein-dense foods. Koreans would barter with American troops for the canned delight and came up with a recipe called bujae jiggae (army stew). As Korea continued to develop, Spam turned into a staple food and now occupies a warm place in the hearts of Koreans. Since Spam has become a comfort food, it is often a common gift that is given during Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). So the next time you’re in Korea in the fall, look out for shelves stocked with deluxe canned meat gift sets.
Want to learn the word “Spam” when you study Korean? Then 스팸(Spam) is what you need!
South Korea Fact #12: Toilet Paper Warms the House
Moving into a new house in Korea? If you’re planning on having a housewarming party (집들이) after the move in, don’t bother buying toilet paper or laundry detergent. You’ll get plenty of it as gifts! While you may need to clear out some space in your house to stockpile all the extra household supplies, the great thing about this tradition is that it makes picking out housewarming presents a piece of cake. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is whether to buy Kleenex brand or 깨끗한나라 (Clean Country) brand.
South Korea Fact #13: Live Octopus
One thing that certainly stands out about Korea is its cuisine. Not only because of it’s rich flavor and wide variety, but also because of Koreans’ love for freshness. Apparently raw octopus isn’t good if it’s not squirming around in your mouth, so Koreans skip out on the cooking part. Some will cut up the octopus and put in in a bowl. Others cut off the legs while it’s still alive, eat the legs, and toss the rest of the octopus body into a stew. Tentacular!
If you’re mouth is watering at the thought of some squirming octopus, you can study Korean while you dine by asking for some 산낙지 (live octopus). Korea has plenty more foods for the daring!
South Korea Fact #14: Permanent Cosmetics
South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery in the world. Being an image conscious society, Koreans are very concerned with their appearance. Therefore, cosmetic surgery for both men and women is seen as a good investment with positive benefits. It can help you secure a good job, find a good spouse, and have an overall attractive appearance that others will like to see.
Korea is also a popular destination for medical tourism, specifically cosmetic surgery. People come from all across the globe to have their looks enhanced during a short trip to Korea.
It’s hard to walk down the street in a major city in Korea and not see a sign for 성형외과, which means “plastic surgery”.
South Korea Fact #15: Plastic Cash
Not only is South Korea one of the most wired countries in the world, but it’s also one of the places with the highest credit card usage. If you’ve visited Korea before, you’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t accept credit cards. Taxis, food delivery, and almost all restaurants are set up to accept credit cards. If you don’t have a credit card and live in Korea, getting one is a worthwhile investment.
If you want to ask if a store takes credit cards, you can ask “카드 돼요?”
South Korea Fact #16: Urban and Natural Beauty Coexist
Whether you’re a city lover or a fan of adventuring around the outdoors, Korea truly has something for everybody! While there’s no arguing that Seoul is an amazing city full of culture, shopping, and food which makes it a huge tourist destination, Korea is also full of great day hikes.
If you visit Korea, make sure to make time to explore the natural beauty with a trip down to the beach or up into the mountains. Hanging out in the city and experiencing Korean culture is an incredible experience, but you can’t say that you truly know Korea until you’ve experienced the natural beauty of the countryside!
South Korea Fact #17: Their Internet is Faster Than Yours
Wherever you are, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of slow internet at some point — whether it’s from being in a remote location or having periodic issues with your internet service provider, internet connectivity problems can be a serious inconvenience and put anybody in a bad mood. That being said, you’re in for a virtual treat when you visit South Korea! On average, South Korea has the fastest internet connection speed, and they’re beating every other country’s internet speeds by a significant amount. Stop by an internet cafe while you’re in Seoul and experience what it’s like to have super-powered internet. (Or don’t, if you’re worried you’ll be jealous once you return home!)
South Korea Fact #18: Seoul is a HUGE City
You’re probably aware that Seoul is a very large city — after all, it is the largest city in South Korea by a landslide. With 25 million people living within the city limits, it’s not just a large city — it’s actually the third largest city in the world! Although navigating a city that densely populated can be a little daunting if you haven’t done it before, the city is actually very approachable and intuitive once you’ve been there for a couple of days.
Having that many people live in one place means that there is a seemingly infinite number of restaurants and shops for you to check out during your trip. There’s way to much to do in a couple of days or even in a couple of months, but you’re bound to have a great time visiting as many restaurants, street food shops, and shopping districts as you can!
South Korea Fact #19: Gagnam Style Was a Record Breaker
Surely you remember “Gagnam Style,” the song by the musician Psy that made much of the Western world familiar with K-Pop due to its catchy lyrics and its viral exposure on YouTube. “Gagnam Style” was so popular that it was the first song to hit one billion views on YouTube, which is an amazing feat when pretty much any song in the universe can be found on the site!
“Gagnam Style” was a global sensation and rightfully earned Psy international fame. Although the song is as popular as it is, many people don’t know that the song is about the Gagnam District, an affluent district in Seoul.
South Korea Fact #20: Food Delivery is Taken VERY Seriously
If you’re a fan of ordering food to be delivered, you’ll fall in love with the way South Korea handles food delivery. Whether you’re ordering from a Korean barbecue restaurant or a fast food restaurant, you will probably have your food delivered to you via an employee on a motorcycle. The best part about the motorcycle is that it means they can squeeze in between cars and zig-zag through traffic, so they’ll get to you way more quickly than if your food was being delivered on four wheels instead of two!
Something that is unique to Korean food delivery is that once you’ve finished enjoying your meal, you can put the dishes outside of your front door and the person who delivered your food will swing back later to pick them up. Now that’s what we call amazing service!
Make sure you order delivery at least once while you’re in Korea to experience what all the fuss is about — most restaurants are open late night for delivery, so if you’re looking for a snack after a night out you can call in your order so you don’t even have to leave your apartment.
South Korea Fact #21: Heat Rises… Through the Floor!
Most modern houses in the Western world come equipped with central heating systems that send hot air through metal vents hidden in the walls during the cooler months. South Korea utilizes a different system that has its own unique set of perks — rather than sending heat through vents, most South Korean homes are heated through the floor!
Pipes are immediately under the floor in Korean homes, and heat passes through these pipes to send warmth up through the floor into the above apartment or home. This system means that your feet will always be warm on cold winter mornings — what’s not to love about that? Due to this difference in heating systems, you’ll often find Koreans hanging out on the warm floor during the cooler months of the year.
South Korea Fact #22: Sleep Deprivation is a (very) Common Occurrence
While being sleep deprived is a reality all across the world in some industries, it’s usually restricted to a select few industries and isn’t a huge part of a given culture. South Korea is different in that regard — during your time in Korea, if you ask people how much they sleep on any given night, you’ll more likely than not hear “six hours a night.”
Most scientific organizations recommend a solid eight to nine hours a night, so South Koreans are definitely technically sleep deprived! However, because it’s such a normal occurrence, you won’t hear people complain about how tired they are unless you specifically bring up sleep.
You’ll have so much to do and experience during your trip that you may find yourself leaning towards getting six hours a night as well — after all, there are only so many hours in a day!
South Korea Fact #23: Samsung is Everywhere
Samsung is one of the largest technology countries in the world, and it’s based in Seoul — the company is responsible for a fifth of the country’s booming economy, which is no small feat! However, in many countries, Samsung is only known for their cutting edge cell phone technology, when in reality they’re also responsible for creating modern and reliable armored cars for military use and medical equipment among other technologies.
South Korea Fact #24: Both Men and Women Are Obsessed with Makeup
Makeup is easy to fall in love with — it’s a ton of fun experimenting with different styles of makeup and transforming your face for special events. It also lets many people that are insecure with parts of their appearance feel more comfortable in their skin on a day to day basis. It’s common knowledge that South Korea is one of the makeup capitals of the world — there are entire districts of Seoul dedicated to cosmetic shops, so it’s truly a makeup lover’s paradise.
What’s less well known is that men and women alike wear makeup in Korea — there is no stigma about men wearing makeup, so some men wear significantly more makeup than women here! Everybody wants to put their best face forward, and makeup plays a big part in that.
Korea is an incredibly interesting and complex country, and the more you learn about it, the more you’ll want to know.
What is the coolest fact that you’ve learned about South Korea? Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences; we’d love to hear from you!