So without further adieu, here is what I have noticed.
From my hike in Seoul!
Hiking is essentially the national past-time in Korea. It seems like every other store sells hiking gear, it is crazy popular. I don't think I have gone a day since arriving without seeing at least one person decked out to go on a hike. And I am talking hard-core hiking gear. Special hiking pants, coats, visors you name it. Not to mention the backpacks, boots and trekking sticks. If I saw someone decked out like that in America I would assume they were about to head out into the back country or climb a fourteener, something intense you know? Not the case in Korea. If they have got the gear you can bet they are wearing it on any and all forms of hiking.
The hikes themselves are the second difference I have noticed in how are two cultures approach the great outdoors. Going on a hike back home I expect to have to traverse rocky paths, maybe deal with some mud if it just rained. You know get down and dirty with mother nature. So far I have not encountered many "rough" hiking trails. Much of the trail, especially on shorter hikes, is paved or has a boardwalk of some kind. Where it is not paved or boardwalked the trail is immaculately maintained. I'm talking stepping stones, man made stone stairs, paths picked clear of rocks and plants. There is no mistaking where the trail is like I have come across in America. Now that is not to say that there aren't stretches of a more natural looking trail or hikes that are a little bit more demanding, but I have not encountered many. So if you are moving to Korea know that while hiking is super popular and you will have no problem finding gear, a place to hike, or someone to go with, it might not be exactly what you are used to.
Lastly I have noticed some differences in noise pollution. When I go on a hike, I either go with a friend to talk to them, or I am going alone to be with my thoughts, or simply to appreciate nature. Rarely would I listen to music on a hike and if I did I would wear headphones. That is not always the case here. 98% of the people I have encountered hiking who have chosen to forgo the sounds of mother nature for music do not wear headphones but rather carry their device in their pocket or bag and put that sucker on full blast for all to hear.
Again I am not saying any of this is good or bad it is simply different.
Cafe culture is huge here in Korea. There are a ton of big chains like Starbucks, Pairs Baguette, A Twosome place, Ediya and more. But there are also of a million individually owned and operated cafes. You will literally never not be within walking distance of a cafe in Korean cities. That said their approach to coffee is different than what I am used to. Especially in the smaller cafes they treat each cup like a work of art so don't expect to be in and out in 5 minutes. They also don't really do just cups of coffee. You will typically only find "fancy" drinks like lattes, cappuccinos and mochas. The closest I have found to a straight cup of coffee (even at starbucks) is an Americano.
The atmosphere and decor is sometimes pretty different from a typical cafe in the states. They have more themed cafes, if you will. For instance there is one in Seomyeon called the playground cafe that has mattresses and pillows on the floor for people to lounge on and lofts or bunk-beds built above for additional lounging. They also have cat and dog cafes where for the price of a drink you can get your fill of your favorite pet.
And finally their hours are not what I am used to. Starbucks's in America open at 6 a.m. and close around 8 p.m. That is because Americans typically grab a coffee on their way to work or during a break from work or school. Late night coffee shop frequenting would be for when you needed to work on a project or were meeting up with someone to catch up briefly. Here a few chains will open at 8 a.m. but most don't open their doors till noon or later. However, they will stay open until 11 p.m. or midnight! People hang out at cafes (especially ones with bingsu yum!!) for hours. It is a place to hang out with friends and catch up, not just a place to get a pick-me-up.
I will continue this type of cultural observation blog up in the future. In the meantime, I would love to hear what cultural difference has struck you most when visiting another country.
Also, here are some pictures from a dog cafe I went to in Seoul last weekend.