Peace Out Seoulmates: 15 Things I Hate About Korea

Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea

Deuces, Korea!

In March of 2018, I’ll be leaving Korea.
After 1 year in Busan and nearly 2 years in Seoul it’s time to bid adieu to the Land of Morning Calm.  I’ve had plenty of amazing travel experiences and local opportunities, dating blunders, and hagwon hells in Korea.  There’s plenty to love, but everyone loves to hate.  Here’s my list of things I won’t miss about living in Korea.
Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea spa white towels tiles bench yellow rubber duck massage
Photographer: Leeroy

#15 – Just Like T-T

One thing about gyms and spas in Korea is that they give you the tiniest towels of all time.  How am I supposed to get my body dry enough with such a tiny towel?  I’m on a tight schedule to cover up with all the other ladies gawking at my waygookin parts.  I’m ready for a real towel, Korea – especially in the winter!
Things I hate about living in Korea

#14 It smells like shit everywhere.

Korea is no longer a third world country, but there seem to be an awful lot of third world values.  The way people treat the streets as though the sidewalk is their own personal garbage can is infuriating.  It’s especially obnoxious when your ajumma landlord freaks out because you’ve managed to get some paper in the plastic recycling or have put your trash in the wrong gu’s bag (the horror!)  The plumbing is a massive issue here, too.  In Seoul it’s not quite as bad as it was in Busan, but Korea still smells like fecal matter in certain areas.  I joke that my apartment reeks of farts, but the plumbing here truly is garbage and until the frost came on it really did smell like crap.

Korea Pet Peeves - Things I won't miss about Korea things I hate about living in Korea people woman stripes sweatshirt blonde beauty laundry machine shop lazy
Photographer: Kristopher Roller

#13 Laundry – I want to burn all of my clothes

Is it really too much to install drying machines in these apartments?   With my ondol heating not being nearly as good as I’d like, my place is freezing.  No chance of opening these windows for a breeze!  In the winter, my clothes often smell musty/ moldy.  Through the rest of the year my washing machines have always just destroyed my clothes.  Packing up to go home shouldn’t be much of an issue considering I’d like to burn my entire wardrobe!

Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea food dragonfruit fruit rambutan fresh dessert grapefruit table pink
Photographer: Brooke Lark

#12 Staying Healthy’s a Full-Time Job

I have found trying to eat clean to be quite difficult.  The lack of affordable fruits and vegetables has made it really easy for me to fall into unhealthy habits.  People LOVE to eat bread in Korea.  My students are brought up thinking that glutinous rice is a health food.  They use margarine/ canola oil to cook just about everything.  Everything down to garlic bread is sweetened to high heaven.  I was told I’d lose so much weight in Korea due to the healthy diet here and honestly that’s just a bunch of hogwash.  I trained hard for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week and ate really clean to drop the weight.  This year I even enlisted the help of Sprout, a natural, healthy food delivery service across Korea.  No matter how much kimchi or kombucha you consume, there isn’t a quick and easy weight loss tool.  The lack of easy, health-conscious options in Korea is something I just won’t miss.
urinals bathroom restroom washroom tiles ceramic white Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea
Photographer: Markus Spiske

#11 Personal Hygiene in Korea: What a Mess!

Why put soap in the bathrooms when nobody washes their hands anyway?  Here – let’s put a bar of soap on a stick.  Those who DO want to use soap will have to pretend to give a handy while touching something riddled with someone else’s germs!  The number of times I’ve heard the hand-washing issue discussed has me…in disgust.  For good measure, let’s give coughing a drop here, too.  If I had a cheon-won for each time someone coughed a lung up on me while on the subway, I’d no longer have to teach English in Korea.
Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea guy man male woman lady people food fruits apples pomegranates grocery market grocer weigh racks
Photographer: Erik Scheel

#10 Retail Anxiety

Another thing I won’t miss about living in Korea is the retail anxiety I experience every time I got to a grocery store or cosmetics shop.  As I descend into the LotteMart grocery department, my ears sting with the sound of vegetable vendors, meat merchants, and fishy fellas screaming at me to buy their wares.  I know that retailers shouting all day into microphones isn’t well-loved my foreigners, but the locals don’t really seem down for it either.  I’ve seen plenty of people young and old covering their ears… “시끄럽다!”
Korea Pet Peeves - things I hate about living in Seoul, Korea coins money pay savings cents collection wealth treasure investment financial funds metal cash business
Photographer: Karol Dach

#9 Foreigner Price in Korea

On several occasions at markets, shops, bars, and in taxis I’ve been quoted a higher price than my Korean (or even simply Asian) friends.  Has this happened to you in your home country?  Of course it’s happened to me at nearly every country’s tourist attractions, but when I’ve lived in Korea nearly 3 years and am speaking Korean to the service agent it blows my mind to still be quoted astronomical prices simply because I’m not from Korea.

people girl standing talking phone wall shopping bag mall
Photographer: Porapak Apichodilok

#8 Here for your Edutainment

When shop owners make fun of my Korean or wave their arms and squeal “Big Size-y!” while shooing me away it actually really hurts my feelings.  When I’m shopping I make every effort to be polite by bowing and speaking Korean in the most natural way I know how.  I wear a Korean size medium and generally have no issues fitting into “free size” garments.  I see you over there letting Korean women who are larger than me try on your clothing.  What gives?
still items things taxi sign traffic cars vehicles city urban downtown metro bokeh
Photographer: Peter Kasprzyk

#7 Taxi Drivers in Korea

I have a major love/ hate relationship with Korean Taxi Drivers.  The fares are incredibly cheap and, in most urban areas, cabs are plentiful.  Sometimes I’ll get a very friendly driver who is just over the moon that I can speak my pitiful bit of baby Korean.  More often than not, they’ll see my blonde hair and when striking up a conversation will ask if I’m Russian.  Live here long enough and you’ll recognize that when a middle-aged/ older Korean man asks if you’re Russian, he’s asking if you’re a prostitute.  The backpedaling that has happened when I tell my driver in Korean that I’m a Canadian person is impressive.  That’s if they DO talk to me.  I’ve had situations where the driver won’t confirm my destination and will take me on a wild goose chase to hike the fare.  I shouldn’t have to call the cops just to get from point A to point B!  I also get perturbed when taxi drivers simply won’t pick up foreigners.  Sometimes if they do, they demand a flat rate and won’t use their meters.  Don’t they realize how badly this reflects on Korean people on the whole when a tourist has to stay out all night just to get back to his or her hotel?
architecture building infrastructure structure chair white wood plant green tiles floor frame picture apartment windows condominium hotel
Photographer: Breather

6. Ondol Heating

My kingdom for a radiator! While I know many people love floor heating (I certainly did while staying in a hanok in the middle of winter), it’s not for me.  It’s November and I’ve been sleeping with 3 layers of clothing and 3 blankets on and my space heater aglow because it takes too darn long for my floor to heat up.  I’m also terrified of having a “the floor is lava” situation if any of the gazillion plastic things I own overheat and melt.

people girl eating restaurant soup food
Photographer: Henrique Félix

5. The Sound of People in Korea Eating.

You’d think it’d be the soup I’d hate most, but it’s actually pizza.  The sound of people eating pizza in Korea makes my eyes water and my ears bleed.  I’m not (just) talking about Koreans, either.  A few of my ESL teacher friends who have been here 3 or 4 years masticate obnoxiously, too.

doll mannequin broken blue people crowd
Photographer: Edu Lauton

#4 빨리 빨리!

“빨리 빨리”, or “hurry, hurry”, doesn’t actually mean productive or efficient.  This cultural phenomenon is a great way to pass the buck and save face.  People are moving along just fine and then all of a sudden it’s “hurry, hurry” time.  In North America, the annoyance is “hurry up and wait”.  In Korea it’s “wait…and then freak out because you just realized you messed up and have to fix the situation immediately or the whole world will implode.”  I find that people in Korea really go out of their way to push or shove the foreigner.  This was especially prevalent in Busan, where I’ve had ajummas elbow me hard enough (and for no reason) to leave bruises.  I try to be polite and say excuse me in various forms before moving past someone.  Often people will stand still completely oblivious to the fact that anyone is trying to get by.  I hate being shoved out of the way just as much as I hate having to push.
P.S. Special shout out to everyone glued to their phone while walking up or down flights of stairs.  You’re the real efficiency heroes.
people man smoke cigarette leaves green chair

#3 The Horking and Spitting

I live on top of a hill tucked away beside the army base in Seoul.  I didn’t think that my only opportunity for sweet repose would be from 2 AM – 4:30 AM.  In Korea, walls are thin and at all hours of the day and night I can hear horking and snorting and coughing and spitting.  It wakes me up at home.  It creeps me out when it happens in the street.  There have been a couple of instances where the guy hasn’t been watching and I’ve actually been caught with an errant loogie.  Walking the streets of Korea is not for the faint of heart!

people old woman grandmother tobacco flower
Photographer: hannah cauhepe

#2 Respect is Reserved

I’ve noticed that in Korea, while the elderly are certainly not taken care of as well as they should be, there is a real sense of duty when it comes to showing respect in public.  Respect is reserved, but don’t skip to thinking it’s deserved.  You’re only due your common decency if you’re superior in age to the person dishing it.  Then, there’s no real reason for you to thank the person (or even say please). Elders have no respect for the younger generation.  They don’t even show appreciation when younger people go out of their way to help.  Respect is an expectation.  Common decency isn’t so common.

red pink mathematics education learning chalk
Photographer: George Becker

# 1 Korean Logic

If you work for a company in Korea, you may have experienced something called the “Korean surprise!”  Plenty of my colleagues have arrived at work only to find out that there’s an essential presentation about which they were never told.  It’s parents day!  Open class!  Graduation picture day!  The Ministry of Education is here!  You owe 30 report cards as of yesterday!  Oh, you didn’t know?  You must have been told.  You are wrong.  Please understand our unique situation.
korea wet market meat seafoods vendor people box
Photographer: Saya Kimura
The unique situation is sadly that there’s not just a lack of communication, there’s a lack of logic.  When working with companies in Korea, I’ve found that they put one foot in front of the other.  They focus on individual puzzle pieces rather than seeing the whole picture.  Korean logic is my #1 pet peeve about living in Korea.  Let’s hope I haven’t inherited it over the past 3 years of living in this country which has afforded me so  much!
15 things I hate about living in Korea
Are you an expat in Korea or anywhere else on the globe?  Do you agree or disagree?  What are your favourite parts of living in another country?  Stay tuned for all the wonderful things I’ll miss about living in Korea!

28 Comments Add yours

  1. Bae yon jun says:

    Been to Korea once, kept across the disputed seas and territories to do so. Never will again.
    Smells like a toilet, I got spat on for having an Asian girlfriend ( who was Japanese anyway) , taxi drivers came off as rape-ish and swindlers.
    On top of everything, I thought their beloved eugenic ideologies really fit in with the modern day. You know, white people good for management, Asian smartest, black people,,,,,, don’t go there. So, as a tourist destination, a grotty little racist place. Go east or north and get the real culture, you know, where Korea got theirs!

    1. sarah says:

      I agree on all the list in your article. I lived 24 years there as a Korean. I felt people were inferior to me in terms of logics and etiquette levels. seniors are rude and demanding of your respect even if they are totally strangers to you and don’t know how to carry themselves as civilized person.
      people just hang on to superficial appearance, job title, the university you go to. doesn t care sh*t about inner growth.
      I came to Canada 5 years ago after my internal turmoil that I couln’t find a single Korean friend I can relate to and constantly get stressed out by Koreans.
      now I have like minded Canadian friends that I can speak my true opinions to and can have genuine and intellectual conversation with. what a blessful moment of my life in here! people love working with me and I feel I wasn’t the one who was inherently wrong to the core. I am grateful that I made a right choice in my life to seek a better life in a civilized society. I got no single Korean friend and I don’t plan to have any in the future .

      1. Kate says:

        Oooh I don’t know if I’d go this far. I don’t think I quite have the same feelings about individual Korean people as I do negative memories of certain situations. I’ve had plenty of intellectual conversations with Korean friends and expats alike while living in Seoul and Busan, and while on my Korean travels. Korea can be incredibly superficial if that’s what you’re looking for, or you can find friends with which to make deep, meaningful connections. That’s the same wherever you go. My commentary was definitely intended to be more a reflection on situations I’ve encountered which have irked me. Please see the other articles in the series – they’re far more positive!

      2. beenthere says:

        Based on your biased and judgmental mindsets, I don’t think anyone would want to be friends with you. Yes, the Koreans are not perfect and I get frustrated by them too, but to hear you talk shit about your own race by saying they’re inferior to you and you don’t plan to make any Korean friends in the future makes me want to vomit. Such a disgusting mindset. It seems that you’re the one that doesn’t give a shit about your inner growth.

        1. Kate says:

          Lots of aggressive responses here. The point of the article was to highlight things I won’t miss. How about you both venture over to the article on the things I thought I would miss about Korea (they’re all true now that I’m back in Toronto and missing my old life!)

  2. Jessica says:

    It’s bc you’re a basic ass b1tch. After all your time there you still are just another uptight dumb white chick ignorant to culture and subdued in mediocrity. You took everything too seriously and that’s something about korean culture you’ll never get. They don’t give a f*ck about what anyone thinks about their plumbing bc they place importance on things like relationships within family and friends, and working hard.

    1. Kate says:

      I think the “basic ass b1tch” comment was unnecessary, however it seems to have shown your true colours right out of the gate so I’ll approve it. Do you understand the vitriol you’re currently spewing? Please. Koreans “don’t give a f*ck” about what anyone but their elders think in general. “Relationships with family and friends” are all for show, and there’s no such thing as “working hard”, there’s sleeping at your desk because your boss made you party all night. There’s no such thing as logic or productivity in Korea, and if you actually think there is then YOU, my dear, seem to be the basic b unobservant and drowning in mediocrity.

  3. buckethead0304 says:

    Basically I agreed with you.
    But what I can not understand is
    that foreigners like you worked in Korea as an English Teacher and complaint too much.
    Where came your all income from?
    You seemed to earn money in Korea and live and eat with it.
    You can tell everything you want and I also can do this.
    There are so many people like you in Korea. They used much in Korea and got money from them. And after they left, they said something like that.
    At least, if you are human, you should feel ashamed.
    I hate such people more than anything. Even very disgusting.

    1. Kate says:

      You said right away that you agreed with me. I came to Korea and learned about the culture and helped to enrich the lives of many of my students. My life was enriched by my time in Korea in so many ways – that’s why I have written about all the amazing things in Korea for 3 years. I’m not ashamed. I’m proud. I’m proud of the work I did in schools. I’m proud of the writing I have done. I’m even proud of what small amount of Korean I learned and have brought back to Toronto. Most people here are so happy to speak their native language especially with someone not of Korean heritage, but who is 4th generation Canadian. I think maybe you are feeling ashamed of some of the negatives of living in Korea, and that’s why you have focused only on this article and not any of the other (more than 100) posts I have made encouraging tourists to visit (and spend money) in Korea. I wrote another article on things I’ll miss about Korea. Perhaps focus on that. Or – just focus on the first sentence in your comment. Now, is my writing so “disgusting”?

  4. I agree with you on this list, and I just want to commend you on your responses to some of these comments. You carry yourself with grace and maturity and I’ve read some of your articles about very positives aspects of Korea. People like to pin point something and run with it…

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Rachel – that’s so kind of you to take the time to comment and say those things! I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of haters, as well. People see someone having a great time living their best life and need to pull them back down to Earth, right? Love the look of your site. I never made it to Daegu and now I’m kind of kicking myself! <3

    2. Wendy says:

      I’m a Korean American who has spent hardly any time in Korea. I was thinking of visiting and found your blog and it is so hilarious!! I loved finding a list of the not so great things. I definitely understand the mannerisms, eating sounds, throat hacking sounds…but never thought of it country wide and having to live 24/7 with it while people in North America chew peacefully with mouths closed in our heated rooms and fresh dried clothes lol. It will definitely be a culture shock to even me and this is half my culture. Thanks for the great read!

      1. Kate says:

        You’ll have the best time! Take a look at the article about the things I’ll miss – I really do miss them and just the way of life I had there in general.

  5. Youn says:

    Hello Kate,
    Somehow I couldn’t post my comment . I tried a couple times.. hope this will work .

    I am sorry about the unpleasant experience in Korea. Yes, we Koreans still have many things to work on like all other countries.
    Every country has the good and the bad and glad you also posted good things about korea.
    Hope your post doesn’t make stereotype or generalization about Korea/ Korean. Or encourage Korean hater trolls to be more active . Constructive critisim is good but promoting hate against certain group isn’t good!
    Bae Yon Joon and Sarah , I kind of suspect you are one of those notorious Japanese extreme nationalist trolls trying so hard to create anti Korean sentiment all around the world . Many of them start the comment with ” I am Korean or Korean American or Korean Canadian etc…,” and with fake Korean names/ other nationality names and fake stories in various languages. Please stop doing that, that’s so pathetic , Japanese keyboard warriors .
    At least you know it’s cowardly and shameful for the horrible war crime country to bully the victim country in cyber. That’s why you are using the fake names. Please don’t be a hate promoter instead why don’t you try to help make the world better place. That’s the least you trolls can do to compensate for the horrible atrocities your country committed on many Asian countries !

    1. Kate says:

      Please take a look at my other articles as well as my responses to the trolls. You would think given that I dedicated 3 years of my life to Korea (as well as over 100 articles on great things to see and do in Korea) people would understand that this is one article out of many, but I guess people like to focus only on the negative. You started out well, but you seem to be trolling Japan in your last section. Please go ahead and read the article about all the things I thought/ knew I would miss when I left.

      Best Regards,


  6. Passersby says:

    I’ve been living in Seoul for almost 2 years. Your observation is spot on. I also have Korean friends that would agree with this article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It makes me feel like I’m not alone and that I’m not going crazy! Haters are gonna hate, and they hate because the truth hurts and it hurts their self-worth. They can spew all the bs at you, but it ain’t gonna change the truth and their lack of civilized standards.

    1. Kate says:

      I think people focus too much on elements where they agree, but feel that waygooks aren’t allowed to feel that way. Like, if you were to complain about something a family member did incessantly, but get angry when your friend agrees it isn’t cool. Have you read the other 2 articles in the series? Did you agree with the positives, too?

  7. Claire says:

    Good points, and I agree with several. I don’t think Korea is that bad per se, but above all else I don’t like this whole Korean wave thing that elevates it to some sort of fantasy land. There are plenty of other issues I find difficult – the vanity, superficiality etc can wear you down if you have a more modest personality, and even a lot of Koreans will openly admit they struggle with that a bit too. The racism there has gotten better with time but still has some way to go. The lack of individuality can also be a bit stifling for more creative people.

    That said I definitely think the good outweighs the bad, but to be completely honest don’t think I could live there long-term.

  8. Min says:

    I’m a Korean born and raised in Australia and I can really empathise where you’re coming from in this post. I agree with all your points (except maybe the passive discriminating attitudes towards non-Koreans might inevitably experience). I fly to Korea at the end of each year for a little R&R (Shopping, food, small things like that) but one thing that dumbfounds me every single time is the average level of social etiquette. And for me some how it
    just seems to get worse and worse every time I visit. Especially after a short detour through Japan, the contrast is staggering. Just to mention a few, holding the door open for the people behind you so it doesn’t slam them in the face, not creating a human barricade and waiting on the side for everyone to get off the train before boarding, not shoving in front of people just to get an almost meaningless head start and the list goes on. I’m sure if you grew up in Korea and were raised in the said environment your whole life you’d have nothing to compare it to thus having no problem but for me I think I’ve finally reached my boiling point. But having said all that, for your sake I hope you don’t reach the same conclusion as I did.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks for commenting! I can certainly agree with many of these points! I certainly value my personal bubble and am happy to not be constantly covered in bruises from angry ajummas on the subway. This is actually just one article in a 3-part series. Check out the other ones on What I love/ will miss, as well as the fears I had when I moved back to Toronto 🙂

  9. M says:

    Hello, I really enjoyed reading your article. Can I just say that I relate so much to some of your points (like #4,11,14) and some points were shocking as I thought ‘those things are still happening even now??’, like taxi drivers ripping foreigners off, clothing store clerk shooing you off, people spitting…

    Btw, I’m Korean and I lived abroad in Canada (and I figured out you’re Canadian.. hello! ) and Indonesia for 8 years and recently returned to Korea last year. And, I’m starting to notice things like people’s rude behaviours and ill-manners.. and I always thought ‘is this perhaps what foreigners see in Korea…?’.

    Then I found this article and it kind of saddened me to see foreigners also feeling terrible by those same aspects. I’m so sorry for what you experienced in Korea and I really want people to see how they look when they do such things and the government really needs to educate people on these issues. When it comes to citizenship, we need a serious big catch-up to do. Some say it’s because we grew ‘too fast’ and the society didn’t have time to mature along with the speed of economic growth.. Anyways, still doesn’t change the fact we need big steps to take in improving social etiquettes..

    I look forward to reading the rest of your articles in your blog. Thank you for writing the article and sharing your experiences..!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks for commenting! This is actually just one article in a 3-part series. Check out the other ones on What I love/ will miss, as well as the fears I had when I moved back to Toronto 🙂

  10. Missy says:

    I swear I just about cried at number 1. When I tell you they drive me CRAZY with the bs…I’m so happy my Hagwon is closing so I can get the hell out of dodge!

  11. m says:

    Good list. I found good and bad things in Korea as well, but in the end the materialism, superficiality and lack of discernible public decorum, kind of forced my hand and I had to leave. Growing up next to America, you think you have a high tolerance for nationalism, but Koreans just take it to a whole other level. It is so extreme and looks and feels a lot like racism. Take for example the constant use of the word ‘best’; every day you hears someone tell you that Korea is best, or Korean —- is the best. That isn’t offensive at all to all the people in the world who are not Korean. The funny thing is that despite being so nationalistic, at least half want nothing more than to get out of there and never look back. Still, met a lot of nice people (Koreans and Westerners) but if I never hear ‘you look so tired’ again, I will be a happy man.

  12. James Booth says:


    Korea would be a wonderful place once the government gets rid of the over the top ageism and starts making public service announcements about morals. Luckily for me, I live in super smart apartments so no heating public issues, underfloor heating all day long.

    Pushing, spitting, palli palli and general lack of consideration for others?

    Point is, is this a Korea thing or an education class gulf? Being from England, I look at things through education and class prism. Most of the antics described by you and that I hate so much is displayed by Korean chav as we can it in UK or Bogan as Australians call it. Are chavs representative of all Koreans? I nearly wet myself as this man and his wife waited for me to go through the door at Jamsil this one time although I noticed that the man pulled back his wife as she made a dash for it despite the fact that I was clearly in front of the thing! All very odd.

    Koreans like to say ohh we are very competitive but that is not competition. It is abject idiocy. My extremely competent wife trained and worked abroad for years – is endlessly sidelined due to the fact that she won’t stand there grinning like a berk – despite the fact that she is paid crazy sums that most people won’t believe. We wonder why the Chaebol went to such great extent to employ her only her innovative ideas to be blocked whilst girls ensue is pointless competition with her, she is paid 50% more.

    I like the country; very much so, however manners and etiquette need revamping. I am sure you’ve heard the joke by enlightened Koreans that manners are lagging behind their rapid development. I agree.

    I do tell people off now when they spit near me, life is too short to abide boorish behaviour.

    As for the sweet bread etc, I just have to suffer by not buying it.

  13. A says:

    lol @ the spitting part. i once saw what seemed like a middle school girl smoking in her uniform and spitting on the ground while making ahjussi-like grunting sounds. that was the moment i experienced culture shock for the first time in my life.

  14. saluterym9 says:

    Those people in photos are Korea boos not real Korean

    1. Kate says:

      LOL None of us are Korean – that’s pretty obvious. We’re not “Koreaboos”, either. Also – please do not curse at me. I’ve removed your name of “F*** you”, rude person.

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