Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Korean Culture - Every Day Tasks in Seoul, South Korea

Korean Culture - Every Day Tasks in Seoul, South Korea
By Paul Symonds

It can sometimes be a little confusing, when you try to take care of every day tasks in a new country for the first time. Even visiting a bank or going to a post office can become a major task, when you do not speak the language. On first visiting a post office in Seoul, I was not familiar with having to use a ticketing system, with an organised queue (line in American English) being the normal way in England. Not only did I need a ticket, but there is also a separate line for paying bills and for posting things, which meant I needed to take two tickets for two sections at the same time. It was no surprise that my two numbers came up at exactly the same time, so I had to hand the lady the money for the bills and then move over to the other side of the post office to get my stamps to send some postcards and then back to collect the receipt and change from the bills payment.

The Korean post offices though provide an excellent service, particularly in that they usually have a special counter for sending parcels and where you can buy boxes and get tape. The staff in the post office at the parcel section, in my experience, will often help to out the boxes together and tape them up. Going to a Korean post office for the first time and without yet knowing very much Korean, can be a real tough. A few months ago, in the ticket hall in Amsterdam train station (Holland), I saw similarly confused Koreans as they travelled Europe - as they tried to work out the ticketing system in an Amsterdam train station. I know they were Korean because, after two years in Korea, I heard them speaking and could recognise the Korean language.

Talking about queues in the previous paragraph, also reminds me of the situation with queuing in Korea and also in countries such as Italy. In Italy there is no such thing as a queue or as waiting in line. Italians do not seem to understand the meaning and on a recent trip to Sicily, Italy I was not surprised to experience about 30 people pushing and shoving each other, as they tried to get to the ticket counter to re-book their airline flights, after their initial flight was cancelled. Korea is much better, with people lining up patiently in most situations. People line up patiently to get onto the subway, to buy a cinema ticket or to pay for food for example.

The only thing that did sometimes bother me was when I would be about to board a subway train and I would experience an adjuma (middle to older aged woman) pushing me with her arms as she attempted to jump ahead of me and board the train. The same situation happened a few times when I was about to step into a lift (elevator in American). As I was about to enter, I found myself pushed to the side by a short and determined lady. Some of the middle-aged women in Korea are very tough!

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