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First time travelers may be in for a surprise when they visit Korea.
Upon your first conversations, all may seem normal.
However, when you get to talking more with the locals, you will notice quirky, unusual, or hilarious things that only foreigners get to experience.
Here are six surprising things you’ll hear from Koreans when you visit Korea.
Each statement or question is written in both English and Korean. Bonus points if you can recognize people saying it in Korean.
If you can’t read Korean, now’s the perfect time to learn. Read this free Hangul guide, and within 60 minutes you’ll be set to read the Korean alphabet!
1. You Use Chopsticks Well! – 젓가락 잘 쓰시네요 (jeotgarak jal sseusineyo)!
One thing that may surprise people visiting here is when Koreans compliment you on your ability to use chopsticks. It will be especially strange if you come from an area of the world that uses chopsticks regularly. It would be similar to you telling your dinner guests that they use a fork well!
While it could sound strange, it’s a Korean’s way of being polite. Plus, some Korean’s really can’t use chopsticks well, so you might be a pro by comparison!
2. Can You Eat Spicy Food? – 매운 음식 먹을 수 있어요 (maeun eumsik meogeul su isseoyo)?
Korea is a great country for spicy food. If you visit Korea and order a spicy dish at a restaurant, be prepared for some strange and concerned looks from the server. She might even ask your dinner companions to confirm that it’s ok for you to order spicy food.
Koreans are told at an early age that foreigners can’t eat spicy food. Since Koreans consider their food to be very spicy, they will be concerned about your wellbeing. Be prepared, this question will undoubtedly come up!
3. You Speak Korean Well! – 한국말 잘 하시네요 (hangungmal jal hasineyo)!
This one might be especially shocking to hear.
That’s because Koreans may say this to you for simply saying the word “thank you” in Korean.
Korea is a small country with about 50 million people in the South, 25 million people in the north, and another 5 million Korean speakers in other parts of the world. While you may have more chances to speak Korean than you thought, it’s still not an extremely common language. Therefore, it’s not studied nearly as much worldwide as other languages.
On top of that, many who visit Korea don’t learn Korean. It’s possible to get by in Korea using only English. Because of that, a lot of people don’t learn Korean. Koreans don’t expect you to know their language, so when you do, they try to show their gratitude by complimenting your speaking abilities—even if it’s only one word.
4. How Many Bottles of Soju Can You Drink? – 소주 몇 병 마실 수 있어요 (soju myeot byeong masil su isseoyo)?
If Americans use gallons and Europeans use liters, then what standard do Koreans use to measure their liquids?
The correct answer is also liters, but it seems like soju bottles would be a close second!
Soju is the national alcohol of Korea. It’s hard to walk more than five minutes in any direction in Korea without seeing some trace of the delightfully distilled beverage. It’s served at restaurants, sold at convenience stores, and consumed anywhere you can think of. The alcohol content is between 16 – 45%, with most brands at about 20%. Most bottle sizes are the same.
Koreans have one of the highest alcohol consumptions per person nation in the world. Since Koreans have a strong connection with alcohol, it’s natural they will be curious how much you can drink. And since soju is a fairly consistent way to measure one’s drinking ability, that question will more than likely come up in conversation.
Make sure you’re careful how you answer it. You may have a long night ahead of yourself!
5. How Old Are You? – 몇 살이신가요 (myeot sarisingayo)?
If you decide to learn Korean, you’ll notice that it has rank and social status weaved into it in a number of ways. This is because Korean culture requires people speak to each based on where they fall into hierarchies.
Age is the main determining factor for how Koreans speak to each other. Therefore, they typically find out early on in a conversation where they fall in relation to the other person’s age. That will help them know how they should address each other.
They also will want to know your age so they know where they stand relative to your age. If you’re talking in English, it won’t matter quite as much. However, they may still be curious, especially if they haven’t met many foreigners.
6. You Look Like X celebrity! – X 닮았어요 (dalasseoyo)!
There are three reasons why Koreans may say this to you:
- They think you look similar to that celebrity
- They are complimenting your appearance
- You really do look like that celebrity
Hopefully it’s an attractive star that they’re comparing you to!
Even if you think you bear no resemblance to that celebrity, simply say “thank you” and keep the good times rolling!
Those are the most common surprising statements that we hear people asking about. If you learn Korean, you’ll likely hear them more than you expect! They’re all meant to be friendly and complimentary, so you should feel confident about engaging Koreans. More often than not, they’ll be polite, especially if you can speak even a little bit of Korean. The more you understand the better your life in Korea will be.