Korea vs United Kingdom – The little differences.

Written by on September 24, 2013 in Lifestyle, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

So, less than a week has passed since I’ve been back in the UK and already I’m yearning to go back to Korea. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve gone from the bustling, never-sleeping city of Seoul to the small town in which I grew up…regardless, I’m now bored out of my mind and climbing the walls. While climbing the walls, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes me love Korea so much. Don’t get me wrong, England is awesome but Korea just has that something…and for the life of me, I still can’t quite work out what it is! However, while musing I did think of a number of interesting differences between the UK and South Korea….

Back to the UK....

Back to the UK….

Of course there are the big differences. In England we speak English..in Korea, they speak Korean. In England, most of the time it rains – even in summer. On the other hand, Korea, as I’m frequently reminded by my friends, has all 4 seasons. Lucky them! In England we use pounds sterling, in Korea they use Korean won – I could go on. Aside from these major differences are the smaller, more interesting differences. Let’s see how many you’ve already thought of!

1. Cost

Obvious, right? No one ever said Seoul was cheap but compared to London, it is. It also seems that in the 18 months since I’ve been in the UK, everything has got a lot more expensive… at least £2-3 more than I remember it being. Maybe my brain is just being evil but seriously. I do not like paying £1.20 (2,072원) for a standard bottle of water. Me = peeved. My credit card = in pain.

2. Being blunt

Broadly speaking, the Koreans have developed a wonderful art for being incredibly blunt. I’ve blogged about it previously and said that many Westerners would hear this kind of talk and become seriously offended but in Korea, it’s not done so out of an intention to offend or hurt. In fact, contrary to Western logic, it’s done out of care.

You know when you wake up with a huge red spot on your chin that no amount of foundation will cover or, having been out drinking with friends the night before, you wake up bloated to the extent that someone offers you the pregnant lady seat on the bus…well, in England, we don’t really comment on this. If your friend is looking a little chubbier than normal or has a huge spot on their face, you talk about anything but that. Koreans, however, at least most of the people I know, will point it out straight away. For example “Woah…that spot on your chin is huge – don’t worry, I have spot cream in my bag!”.

I won’t lie, I’ve already been told off once or twice for saying things that “might hurt other people’s feelings” when, let’s be honest, I’m simply stating the truth. That said, seems an adjustment period is needed.

3. PDA’s

This has been one of my favourite abbreviations to teach my Korean friends this summer. PDAs, or public display of affection as it is better known, are prevalent in the UK and you know what, call me weird or whatever, but I like it. Korea, while definitely not as conservative as it used to be, is still a conservative country and one of the biggest things I noticed coming back to the UK was how touchy-feely, kissy-huggy we are. I think it’s great.

4. Intoxicated people

They’ve all disappeared! Some foreigners that live in Korea love it and say it’s one of the cute little quirks that makes them love Korea…others can’t stand it. I am in the former group and coming back to the UK…I can’t help but wonder, where have all the drunk people gone? Late night drinking is a huge part of Korean culture and in Korea, you can barely go one night without seeing a drunk person asleep on the underground train/park bench/outside the convenience store/at the convenience store table …the list goes on. I’ve grown to love it in ways….and it reminds me of what a safe country Korea is. In Korea, I’ve been told by friends you can fall asleep on a random bench and when you wake up in the morning, there’s a 90+% chance your wallet (with your money) will still be in your pocket. I can’t say the same for London…..

5. Portion Sizes

Good god. Portion sizes are huge!

Eating dinner with my friend last night, we shared a pizza between the two of us and were full – but even the kids at the table next to us had their own starters, pizzas ..and then they finished desert too! My friend and I together could barely eat half of what the 7-8 year old kid at the next table ate… Surely that says enough?


Cake anyone?

Cake anyone?

6. Closing Times

Seoul is known as the city that never sleeps for a good reason. Shops are always open late…and a good number of them just don’t shut. It’s only been a week and I’ve already been caught out twice by England’s ridiculously early closing times. Most shops in England are shut by 5pm…6pm if you’re lucky. Someone help me.

7. Medicine

But it’s not all bad for the UK – a big plus for us is free healthcare and medicine. Sure little things like pain killers we pay for ourselves but a Korean friend was recently talking about the huge medical costs her family are struggling to pay after a relative became sick and the treatment wasn’t covered under insurance. The NHS may not be perfect..in fact it’s far from perfect .. but it’s good to know that at the end of the day, if I suddenly fall really sick, the doctors will be arguing over what the most effective method of treatment is – not whether said treatment is included in my insurance plan.

8. Clothing Style

In Korea, it’s all legs legs legs, in the UK, I can’t help but think it’s all boobs boobs boobs – with a bit of leg thrown in too! In Korea, experience has taught me that cleavage-flashing tops are a big no-no – even when going out. Mini-shorts or skirts so short that you see the safety shorts underneath even when the girl isn’t moving – no problem. England on other hand- perhaps as a result of the colder climate- seems to support the idea that legs stay wrapped up in jeans or tights but if you want to get your cleavage out – well that’s just fine.

Another big thing my Korean friends in London have pointed out is leggings. You know the kind. The barely-thick-enough-to-hide-your-underwear (or lack of) leggings that leave very little to the imagination that girls, especially young teenage girls, seem to love these days. My Korean friends said they wouldn’t dream of wearing them – and one friend who tried it, liked it and foolishly tried to export the trend to Korea…failed and got a huge telling-off from her mum for indecency. Oops.

9. Delivery Service

In Korea, everything can be delivered. Korean food, western food – even McDonalds does delivery. I’m not really a fast food person so I can’t say it bothers me that McDonalds in the UK doesn’t do delivery but do I wish that we had the Korean chicken delivery service?…yes, yes I do!



McDonalds…so you don’t even have to leave the house!

10. Studying…or not.

In the UK, it seems we study at home. In our rooms. A luxury that we seemingly take for granted. Koreans, on the other hand, spend a lot of time studying – particularly in cafes. I went to Starbucks the other day and no one was studying.

Meeting friends, chatting = yes. Studying = No.

This was such a contrast to the sight I’d grown used to seeing in Korea of seats being filled mostly by young Koreans surrounded by textbooks…!


That’s all for now I guess but as I settle back into British life there will undoubtedly be more and more things that I miss (case in point – today, I’ve been craving 호박죽 Korean pumpkin porridge!) but I’ll be back to Korea soon enough hopefully~

What about you? Have you been to Korea? What differences did you see between Korea and your home country?



McDonalds delivery photo – http://lilburner.wordpress.com

About the Author

Anna Darnley

Born and raised in the UK, I'm a 21 year old, final year university student reading BA Chinese and Korean with a minor in Japanese at SOAS. I also speak French and Spanish and I'm studying Russian too. I'm utterly fascinated by the world around me and spend half my time saving for plane tickets, the other half travelling wherever my mood takes me. I'm now back in the UK at university (when I'm not popping back out to Korea at every chance!) Follow me as I explore the Orient!