Koreans take immense pride in the fact that, over the course of about 30 years, the country dug itself out of poverty and into its current place as one of the world’s 20 richest nations. And they should be proud – their meteoric rise to world power is unparalleled.
Despite the fact that life in Korea is nearly as convenient as life in the US, there are some third-world tendencies that haven’t been updated as quickly as the nation’s technology and infrastructure. The thing that freaks me out the most on a day-to-day basis in Korea is the general ignorance of (or unwillingness to adhere to) basic sanitation rules.
5) Hand washing
This is not just a Korean problem. It’s one that bothers me in the US also. It is rare for me to see a Korean man wash his hands properly after using the restroom. Soap is rare in Korean bathrooms, and seldom used when available.
4) Coughing / Sneezing
When Koreans cough or sneeze, they simply don’t pay attention to where they are aiming. This is arguably no worse than coughing into one’s hands, as many older Americans were taught to do, but it’s still disgusting. I have been sneezed and coughed on by just as many adults as kids, and I work in an elementary school.
3) Food Cleanliness
I have had several issues with food cleanliness in Korea. At a restaurant, I showed a waitress a hair in my food, and she just laughed. I got a similar reaction when I showed a fellow teacher a dead bug in some food served at school. Sure, there’s no way to prevent the occasional contaminant in food, but their attitude toward food contamination left me a little weary.
2) Wet Napkins
When the weather is hot, I love wiping my face with the wet cloth napkins that are handed out with silverware at many Korean restaurants (not to be confused with disposable sanitary wet napkins). They are usually rolled neatly neatly and packed in plastic sleeves, which left me with the impression that they are clean. After watching me wipe my mouth with a wet napkin several times, a Korean friend told me that many Korean restaurants soak the napkins in a bucket of water after they are used and roll them up again for the next customer. He worked in a restaurant where the same water was often used all day for hundreds of customers.
1) Plates and Dishes
I began paying attention to the treatment of dirty plates and dishes after one of my high school students told me about his experience working at a hotel in Daegu. To save time, his boss instructed him to wipe off dirty drinking glasses with the dirty shower towels to save time while cleaning a room. Since then, I’ve noticed a couple of restaurants with awful sanitation practices. The worst was a local bar where a waitress cleaned dirty glasses by rinsing them under the tap and using her unwashed hands to scrub the rim.
Although these unsanitary practices bother me more than the average (well-adjusted) person, I think they should be at least a little disturbing to everyone. This shouldn’t stop you from visiting Korea, but it should be a reminder to always keep hand-sanitizer close.
Until next time.