How to be a Seoul local: 10 tips on faking it

How to be a Seoul local: 10 tips on faking it

Essential shortcuts to make it appear like you've lived here forever
Seoul local
Another local litmus test: How well you resist the insistent calls of women offering cheap makeup at storefronts. These women (obviously tourists) could learn a thing or two from this guide.

With an insatiable desire to be the best at everything in the most wired city in the world, Seoulites don't have time to mess around.

Neither do you.

You could invest a significant chunk of your life slowly assimilating into the culture, but we'd rather push you off the deep end.

10. How to communicate

kakaotalkThe stuff that real relationships are made of.


First thing to do when you get to Korea: get a smartphone. Then download the Internet chat application KakaoTalk -- it's pretty much the only line of communication here nowadays.

So much so that the name is most frequently used as a verb. “Katalk me,” means “I like you! Let’s be friends and talk with emoticons for hours."

If you actually call someone right away, they’ll freak out and not answer because your number isn't entered into their phone.

Don't be a dork and suggest something like "iMessage” or “WhatsApp.”

Also on CNNGo: 12 reasons to visit Korea in 2012

The most important part? The KakaoTalk profile picture: it’s the Korean equivalent of a Facebook profile -- and updated much more frequently.

Also, when you compose your messages, even if you can't quite bring yourself to smile (^^), use the tilde liberally.

Otherwise you just sound cold~

9.How to avoid running into people

It may not be rush hour, but these two have been conditioned the right way.


When using public transportation, walk like you drive -- always, always on the right.

On escalators, stick to the right if you want to stand, and if you're in a hurry, switch to the left lane, where people glide up and down like Dementors on a mission.

While subway stations often post signs begging pedestrians to stand still on the escalators, obey them at your own peril. The locals will be hemming and hawing behind you, with death stares burning into your back.

8. How to walk up subway stairs

Korean fanny pack.

Sure, Korean girls have nice legs.

But that's not all that's required to wear those micro-minis you see everywhere, winter or summer, work or play.

To really pull off a skimpy skirt without looking like a floozy, you need to do as Korean girls do when going up stairs and escalators: put a bag on it. Or behind it.

Take a handbag or a tote bag and hold it with both hands behind your butt, covering the edge of the skirt. A bit awkward? Perhaps.

As for men, don’t look up when you’re walking up the stairs. It's all too easy to be mistaken for a pervert.

7. How to eat

When eating from a public bowl, make sure you're handy with the chopsticks. Communal eating can be a cold war when everyone is hungry.


Most Korean food is communal. Some might say even communist.

Everyone orders together and shares equally. Don't be surprised if your meal buddy's chopsticks find their way onto your plate at some point -- and yes, you’ll be dipping your spoon into the same stew pot as your companions.

Squeamish about double-dipping? Go ahead and say so, but just know you’ll be judged as being a stuck-up prude ... and worse. Good thing you don't speak Korean.

Also on CNNGo: 10 best Korean restaurants

Table manners are dictated by hierarchy according to age or position.

If the silverware hasn't been laid out before your arrival, the youngest of your party needs to get out the napkins, spoons and chopsticks from boxes on the table.

The youngest also brings in the water. With meat, the youngest grills.

Finally, never take the last piece of food on the plate. All your arguments -- you're hungry, children in other countries are starving or the meat is sizzling to a black crisp on the grill -- will fly out the window once you've popped it into your mouth and feel the chill of disapproval descending from the others around the table.

6. How to pay

seoul local The Check Dance.


If the above entry made it sound as though Korea’s a tough deal for youngsters -- it’s not.

Because when the check dance comes around, guess who leads? The oldest.

Nonchalantly saying, “So, how much was my dish?” is the equivalent of social suicide -- especially if you’re one of the older people in your party.

If you’re among the youngest, you’ll sound cute, so feel free to offer up the hollow offer to pay.

This also explains why your age is one of the first things Koreans will ask about, often quite abruptly.

5. How to drink

seoul local From left to right: A typical evening of drinking in Seoul. You start out happy and end up passed out.


Drink until you pass out and have to be stuffed into a cab or laid gently on a subway bench, to be photographed and posted on blogs like Blackout Korea. Drink like there's no tomorrow, because tomorrow you'll have to go to work like you didn't down five bottles of soju the night before.

For true locals, there's no such thing as a casual beer with friends on a Thursday night. When Seoulites go out, they go all out, with the evening divided into multiple stages -- il-cha (stage one), e-cha (stage two), sam-cha (stage three) and so forth.

Stage one is usually dinner. Dinner is usually meat, consumed with a light alcoholic beverage, like Cass beer or soju "watered down" with beer.

Stage two is another bar, where more alcohol is consumed. This is when the harder stuff comes out, and when Koreans will begin to test your ability to ingest neurotoxins.

Also on CNNGo: Business traveler's guide to surviving a Korean drinking session

Koreans aren't pretentious with their alcoholic beverages. Don't discuss the superiority of certain cocktails over others, and never swirl anything around in your mouth with a thoughtful expression. Just down your shot and hold out your glass (both hands) for more.

Stage three, when everyone is varying degrees of tipsy, can mean more bar hopping. Inevitably, one or two members of the party will want to hit a karaoke room (noraebang).

Like Mexicans, all Koreans are, inexplicably, amazing singers. This might be because one always goes karaoke-ing when drunk, but in any case, don't be intimidated by the local singing prowess. It's more about how much fun everyone has, and that means poppy chart-toppers and dance numbers.

Don't overdo it on the mournful ballads or obscure one-hit wonders that you only know because you listened to a lot of oldies radio back home. When in doubt, lean on the Backstreet Boys -- “As Long as You Love Me.” Everyone will approve.

4. How to address people

Ajumma or imo? If you want generous servings of her tteokbokki, it had better be the latter.




A true mark of whether the locals have accepted you as one of their own is when they stop calling you by name. 

A name may sound like the most intimate way to address someone, but not so here.

For women, older female friends are "unni." Older male friends are "oppa."

For men it's "nuna" and "hyeong."

You may have heard of "ajumma," the Korean word that insultingly and affectionately refers to a middle-aged woman with a curly perm, a certain amount of weight gain and the manner of a hustler.

When flagging a waitress, you might get better results with the more neutral "imo," the Korean word for "auntie." You’ll be surprised at the difference in smiles and service that one word will you get you.

3. How to look like a vampire

Jaejoong Circle lenses, pale skin, guy-liner. Vampire or K-Pop idol?

Forget about the gloomy town of Forks -- the Cullens from "Twilight" should really have moved here instead, because Koreans are more afraid of the sun than any family of diamond-studded bloodsuckers.

While the summer sun can get hot, Korea is still temperate, not tropical. We wish we could claim that it was about sun cancer prevention, but that's just a positive side effect. The local obsession with remaining pale is very much cosmetic.

Some of the older, less fashion-conscious ajummas sport black visors that cover their entire face, sometimes with a handkerchief to protect the back of their neck, and carry frilly umbrellas on sunny days.

Don’t think it’s just a girl thing -- go into any Korean cosmetic store and you’ll see that most of the models are male -- beautiful, pale-skinned males.

The other big Korean beauty product apparently developed with the aim of spreading the love of vampires are circle contact lenses, which supposedly make your eyes look larger, darker and dewier.

Stars wear them, girls wear them, guys wear them.Who cares that optometrists warn that circle lenses may cause blindness?

2. How to eat spicy food

seoul local Who knew? Milk and peach juice (unfortunately named Cool Pis) are potent ingredients for guarding against a swollen tongue.


The ability to eat spicy food is a primitive but effective way to gain respect as one of the locals.

When we talk about spicy Korean food, we don't mean kimchi. Five-year-olds eat kimchi.

We mean foods like buldak, or "fire chicken," which will burn a trail of pain from tongue to tummy.

To relieve the agony, drink milk like the Koreans do.

It makes sense. Buldak will make you cry like a baby, so drink what babies drink when they cry.

1. How to look good, always

SEOUL LOCAL Korean actor Jang Geun-seok's flawless skin is 50 percent Mother Nature, 50 percent Photoshop, and 100 percent snail cream.


There are two rules regarding appearances in Seoul.

First rule: be prepared for pain. Second rule: the pain is worth it.

Those are the key principles behind the Korean look: put together, and shamelessly so. There are no trust fund babies with ironic statement rags here.

britney spears hanbokSettle down, Brit, we said "fake being a local," not "channel our great grandmothers."

Korean women wear stilettos like Australians wear flip-flops -- anywhere and everywhere, be it eight hours in a crowded club or a casual stroll along the beach/Han River.

Aching arches are nothing, not in a country where 60 percent of women are estimated to have gone under the knife by their 20s.

Another way to avoid looking like a gaping foreigner: don’t gawk at the grotesque before-and-after plastic surgery ads plastered all around the city. And for God's sake, don’t ask people if they’ve gotten a nose job -- just because everyone’s done it doesn’t mean they want to talk about it.

Snail cream (yes, that's right -- face cream made from snail guts) is the rage for skincare. Women and men also use BB Cream, lighter than foundation, but with better coverage than moisturizer, beloved for its ability to simulate the look of flawless skin.

After all, why shouldn't men be allowed to hide the occasional pimple?

More on CNNGo: How to be a Hong Kong local: 10 tips on faking it

Violet Kim is a freelance writer for CNN Travel.

Find her online @pomography.

Read more about Violet Kim

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 

 

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