Being polite in Korea

During my childhood, I was taught to be polite in every daily situation. My mother would be extremely proud whenever my brother’s or my own behavior was praised by adults. When I was a young boy, I wanted to make my mother proud and therefore strived to be a well-mannered citizen. This self-evident principle is still valid today. 

However, here in South Korea, I recognized directly that the rules of etiquette are not just a little but completely different. After spending the mandatory seven days of self-isolation in Seoul, two weeks ago I was finally allowed to leave my quarantine hotel. Therefore, this short essay is a summary of my first impressions about Korean politeness gathered during that short time span. This essay should by no means to be understood as a guide, but merely describes my subjective perception.

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Korean Language 101

Hangul is the writing system of Korea, created and introduced by King Sejong the Great in 1443. Today, the 9th of October, is a national holiday that celebrates the first publication of the Hunminjeong’eum, the document introducing the language to the public. Hangul’s most important purpose was to reduce the illiteracy of the Koreans with a lower education. They struggled with the Chinese writing system, as the spoken Korean and Chinese were already very different, and the large number of characters didn’t help either. So the newly created alphabet consists of only 24 letters, benefiting everyone who wants to learn to read, including me.

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The limits of translation tools

The solution to all translation problems is “papago”. Despite an introductory course in Korean in Switzerland, I got into a bit of a rut when I arrived at Incheon Airport. I was surprised by the fact that people in South Korea don’t really know how to communicate in English. This is surprising because English is taught from the basic level and the Korean school system requires a high school diploma. The final exam includes a multiple-choice reading comprehension test, tricky even for native English speakers. And yet only Koreans with an international background can communicate in English. This was not a bad thing for me because it gives me the chance to immerse myself in new spheres of communication.

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Bukhansan

When looking for similarities between Korea and Switzerland, what comes to your mind first? Even after spending more than three months here, it is not an easy question for me to answer. Maybe the food, in the end, both Swiss cheese and Korean kimchi is a fermented meal? I have to admit, I had to google that fact. But there is one thing that the Swiss and the Korean people share: A love for hiking!

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Let’s have a coffee in Seoul

To experience the vibes of Seoul, it’s best to sit down in a coffeehouse. These are easy to find, as no matter where you look in Seoul, you will find a handful of options within sight. It is, therefore, no surprise that Seoul is the city with the highest density of Starbucks stores in the world. This international chain set the minimum standard in coffee quality a few years ago. South Koreans, however, are eager to point out that real coffee is brewed elsewhere.

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Korean 101

One of the luxuries of being an international student at Korea University is the convenience of speaking English all around the campus. Because of this, sometimes I am even frustrated by the fact that I cannot practice my almost non-existent Korean skills.

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