Walk into a local Korean restaurant and take a seat. Most Korean restaurants in Korea, if not filled to capacity, won’t have a host or hostess to seat you. If there’s an open seat, it’s yours for the taking.
Sitting at a table waiting for the waitress to come around? Raising your hand hoping to get their attention? Chances are you’ll be just as unnoticed as the quiet and nerdy kid sitting in the back of the classroom.
First thing’s first, look for a button on the table. And just like Field of Dreams, “if you press it, they will come.” If there is no button, make sure you’re not sheepish about calling them over. To get their attention, do as the Koreans do and say a nice, heartyjeogiyo (저기요 – excuse me) — be firm and confident. Don’t worry about being impolite. As long as you’re not screaming it, they’ll take it in stride.
Tip 1: Waiters/waitresses share in the serving duties (you’re not designated a server).
Tip 2: A friendlier way to address a waitress is to say eonni (언니 – older sister) or emo (이모 – auntie). Don’t worry, most men don’t care what you call them (seriously).
At local Korean restaurants in Korea, utensils are typically found at the table you’re sitting at. Look for a box with a lid on the table. Once you do find them, place a napkin on the table and put your utensils on top of it. Most Korean locals do this to ensure whatever is going into your mouth is clean. It’s not that the restaurants in Korea are unclean. It’s just an added level of security. Germaphobes unite!
Tip 1: Can’t find the utensils? Don’t forget to look under the table as well—they might be tidily placed in a drawer.
Although this is an oxymoron for protecting oneself against germs, if you’re eating with locals at a Korean restaurant in Korea, be prepared to share your food. Korean culture places a lot of emphasis on sharing, and that means you’ll see a lot of different spoons in the same pot and ripping up large pieces of kimchi with chopsticks that were just in someone’s mouth. Don’t be freaked out, it’s bound to happen!
Tip 1: If you’re uncomfortable with this, people will understand. Ask for an extra dish (ap jeobshi – 앞 접시) and take what you need.
For local Korean people, water at a restaurant is usually only good for dabbing at that kimchi you spilled on your shirt. That is until the end of the meal when Koreans actually drink it. If you want to eat like a local at a Korean restaurant in Korea, wait till the end of your meal to drink water. Korean people have a belief that drinking too much water is bad for digestion, and most Korean people only drink about a cup or two at the end of their meals.
Tip 1: If you’re a human-camel, don’t worry. There’s nothing culturally wrong with drinking a lot of water at the table. It’s just not what local Koreans do. Drink up!
Tip 2: If you’re not given a container of water, water is most likely self-serve. Scan the restaurant, find the water cooler and get it yourself. Sorry, lazy people!
If you call over the waitress asking for the check and/or hand over your credit card to pay, you might get a laugh or two out of her. At most Korean restaurants in Korea, the check is already at the table. They just mark whatever you ordered and leave the tallied check on the table. And at most restaurants in Korea, you’ll have to bring that check to the front door to pay on your way out.
Tip 1: At a galbi restaurant in Korea? Check the metal ventilation tubes atop the BBQ. Sometimes the check is magnetically attached. Clever!
You bought your ticket no problem and you think you’re set. You head over to the turnstile and click your card, but nothing’s happening! The more you click, the angrier you get. But before you transform into the Hulk and start breaking stuff, back away and see if there’s an arrow. These arrows indicate if that particular gate is for entry. To make foot traffic flow smoother, Seoul subways designate half the gates for entry and the other half for exits. And you’re probably just at an exit gate. So put your shirt back on and move on over to a turnstile with an arrow, Bruce Banner.
Tip: If you’re at a gate with an arrow and your card still isn’t working, maybe you’re low on funds? But if the obvious isn’t the problem, take your card to the station manager who will fix it for you
If you’re traveling to Korea with one of those big daddy travel suitcases, you might have trouble getting through the turnstiles. Although many of the newer Seoul subway stations have entry points without turnstiles, many of the non-upgraded stations will still have them. And that ain’t good for big papi. A lot of times the handles get stuck in the turnstiles, or sometimes the suitcase just doesn’t fit. So instead of lifting your suitcase over your head like a pro wrestler looking to bodyslam some luggage, do the easy thing and head over to the wheelchair access gate. All subways are equipped with this gate to provide access to the disabled as well as travelers that love to pack their entire wardrobe. Just “click” your T-money card on the sensor and be on your way!
Tip: If you have a lot of luggage, use the elevators. Nearly all Seoul subways stations can be accessed by elevator.
Tip 2: Gates can be used for strollers.
Sometimes Seoul travelers occasionally get on the wrong side and need to cross to the other. This isn’t an issue if you’re at a one-platform subway station that has trains going in both directions. But if you’ve made this mistake at a station that requires you to go up to the turnstiles and cross to the other side, you won’t want to use your T-money card to get out (you’ll be paying an extra fare). Instead, head over to the wheelchair access gate (see #2) and press the button and wait till the gate opens (sometimes there will be no sound). Then head over to the wheelchair gate on the other side. If they see you they’ll most likely have it readily open for you. If they don’t see you, you can press the button again.
Tip: The speakers let you talk to the staff members to explain your noobie mistake, but many times the staff won’t even ask and just let you through.
잘 못 탔어요 (jal mot tasseoyo) – I got on the wrong side
Seoul subway fares are determined by the length of your ride. But if you like bragging about being a “spontaneous traveler” and decide mid-ride that you’re going to go a little farther than your original destination, your fare might increase. And if you don’t have the right amount charged on your card, the gates will be really mean and refuse to open. Instead of being super criminal of the year and jumping over the turnstiles, be a bit more civilized and pay the extra few hundred won. All subway entry points will have machines to recharge your funds. Here you can pay whatever extra you need and be on your way.
Tip: This tip is also for when you run out of funds on your T-money card.
Super Secret Tip: If you’ve run out of cash (or you’re super cheap), you can press the button at the wheelchair gate (see #3). Most of the time staff won’t even ask and just let you through. But you didn’t hear it from us
This tip we covered for mega Seoul subway noobies, but if you’re going to buy your tickets at the station, you will have to purchase a single use card. And the Seoul subway staffers like to get those cards back to sacrifice to the subway gods (or maybe just to recycle them :P). And to ensure that they’ll be getting their sacrificial lambs back, they ask subway riders to put a 500 won deposit for each ride. When you get off at your station, you of course get that money back at a refund machine. This is a super simple tip that too many tourists gloss over. So remember to get your 500 won back at the end of your trip, which’ll keep your wallet and the subway gods happy.
Tip: To avoid this hassle, just get a T-money card. Trust us. It’s worth it.
If you’re planning your trip, you might be searching for where to stay in Korea. But a hotel experience can make or break a trip. And if you’re looking for a memorable experience, you might want to check out these wacky theme hotels in Korea!
Language Note: Pension refers to a type of weekend getaway rental in the country side.
Cozy Design House is a unique interior designer company in Korea that focuses on pension getaways. Their rooms appeal to the consumers in us as they base their room designs on popular products and consumable such as a Starbucks cup, a cup of shin ramyun, a Volkswagon minibus, Gucci shoes, Banana Milk and many more. These are all designed by the same company, but there are several locations with different owners.
Down at the southern tip of Korea is the small port city of Tongyeong, a popular weekend getaway for many Koreans. There you’ll find ChezLee Pension, which has imperial style rooms designed for the royalty of historical kingdoms around the world.
별소네 펜션 (Novel Pension) located in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province, offers accommodations for fantasy lovers. Their rooms are named and designed after Snow White’s apple, a Smurf hut and an ambiguous fruit with a hat on top from the Wizard of Oz. There’s also an Orange, just because.
At the Platinum High Heel Suite of the brand new Christie Hotel (Sindang-dong, Seoul), you’ll find an extra large high heel doubles that’s not only for decoration, but also functions as a bath. The shoe theme even carries over to a wine holder in the shape of stilettos.
This unique love motel in Seoul is meant for raunchy hip hop lovers that love parties. That is, if we’re to believe the graffiti on the wall (read: “love party”). There’s also a stripper pole on a stage with changing colors as well as karaoke machine. Word to yo mama.
This pension out in Gangwon Province has drawings on the walls and ceilings of each room. Turn off the lights and you can have a disco party with your significant other at On the Hill Pension.
Hotel Bobos in Suwon is a collection of decorated rooms without a central theme. There’s an ice room, pharaoh’s lair, fairy tale world all in one single building of imagination. And love.