South Korea Sucked and I Want My Money Back

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After finally falling in love at first sight with a country (Japan) – the next country which I immediately visited from there was always going to have a hard time with regards to comparison. But I wasn’t expecting quite the fall from grace that occurred. I don’t believe in writing controversial statements for the sake of traffic, or to get people’s backs up. My blog is a place of honesty due to my personal experience and you can’t always like every country you visit. So on that note, it would be completely genuine for me to affirm – that South Korea sucks and I do not want to ever go back there.

If there’s anything to take away from my travels it is this – people make the places positive or negative. Sightseeing is overrated – people are generally not. They’re either amazing or awful and nothing in between. Some buildings may tell a story, but they do not move. They stay the same. People move. People talk. People are vulnerable. People are present. People interest me. You can be in the dirtiest, loudest, crowded, most chaotic country – but if you’re around polite, friendly, warm, fun people – it’s almost impossible to have a truly bad time.

And that’s my issue with South Korea. I found the natives of Seoul and Busan to be unfriendly, cold, antisocial, rude and occasionally a little racist.

I don’t even know where to begin. Everyone look so depressed, dressed in office suits in their abundant choices of American chain coffee shops, or rushing to work with their ‘get the hell away from me’ vibe. Every single time I was lost in the street and tried to get help, I was ushered away incredibly rudely. And yeah – I know I’m in their country and not speaking their language. I know that English isn’t widely spoken there, but that is a poor excuse for acting the way they act.

I don’t speak Swahili. But if I was in the UK and a Swahili person came to me for help – I’d try my best to help them. Body language is powerful too. And South Korean’s body language says “f**k off.” 

painting south korea
I painted a fish in South Korea. It was very exciting.

The Japanese speak little English, but I found them to be the polar opposite. And yes, discussing parallels between South Korea and Japan is like comparing a plain Ryvita to a double chocolate gâteau drizzled in maple syrup (with a steaming brew of Earl Grey on the side). There were several isolated incidents where myself and other caucasian folk were turned away from establishments simply because; “no white people.” (Which confuses me, because Korean women use a shit-load of white makeup to try and look more white). My friend was shocked (obviously) and the staff answered with a half-assed apology. My friend retorted with “no you’re not.” 

I agreed. I didn’t feel they had any sense of sympathy, guilt, or in fact any emotion that would be described as human.

So yeah, South Korea is joining Vietnam on my naughty country list. Because of my experiences with the people.

The only three friendly South Koreans in the whole of South Korea. As rare as unicorns. Loved these guys.
The only three friendly South Koreans in the whole of South Korea. As rare as unicorns. Loved these guys.

The message I get from Vietnam is; “give me your money now, or go away.” The message I get from South Korea is more like; “Don’t talk to me. Don’t look at me. Get away from me and leave me alone to sit here and hate life.” I’m sure there’ll be some hippy-dippy explanations out there such as my negative energy from my first experience perpetuated more negative energy. Or that I didn’t quite understand the culture. And that’s correct – I really do not.

I wholeheartedly agree that living in a country is a very different dynamic from just passing by and playing tourist. A few weeks ago I pretty much stood up for the Germans and backed them up against what I felt was an incredibly unfair perception – and I felt I could do that because I lived there. But I’m yet to be convinced that this was the case here.

I really tried to like South Korea, but I did not. I know when I’m not welcome and I never felt welcome in the land of…ummm – filtered coffee, suits and palpable misery? (Don’t even get me started on the worst world cup football stadium tour of all time).

Edit: Looking back at this article is weird and I don’t even recogonise the anger/bitterness anymore that I seemed to have carried at the time, but I’m clearly not the only one who had a bad time in South Korea. (Some of my defenders are even South Korean themselves).

I try and write at least one entry to every country I visit and if I was a people-pleaser, I would have written a simple ‘5 thing to do in South Korea’ article and moved on. But my feelings at the time were real and so I’ll keep the article as it was (deleting it from existence feels shady to me).

With that being said, after sifting through some of the hysterical, professionally-offended loser Korean expat comments (piss off and cry into your kimchi) – there were some constructive criticisms that I openly accept and such a damning verdict on a country that I barely spent enough time in, with a population of 51 million people – is ridiculous. (And so is comparing it to another country upon landing).

My bold claims about why Korean girls wear white make-up was totally unfounded, based on ignorance and I was rightly corrected. I lacked a lot of class in this article and I commented strongly about a culture, which I don’t really know anything about (other than the fact they make brilliant movies, stick ‘OldBoy’ on your list of movies to see).

However, there are plenty of supporting comments of the article (and in my inbox) from people who lived there for a long time. I accept some of the criticism on here, but those that left overemotional and aggressive comments (many of them rife with double standards and cliches) gave me a good laugh!

I’m done replying to this article.



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27 comments

  1. Wanda Hong Reply

    You hit the nail on the head. My husband's family is a warm and welcoming bunch and the people I met in small towns were friendly but overall Koreans are miserable and deceitful people who have no qualms with lying to a person's face and won't give you the time of day unless you are a paying customer. I loved the beaches and Jeju and the southern part of the country, the food and lots of things to see and do, but the people are generally rude and selfish and narrow-minded. I only go back to visit my in-laws but I would never live there again. If my husband ever wants to move back there he will be going alone!

  2. Wonamin Reply

    I’m glad you didn’t like it. I’m sick of you douchebags coming here and acting like you’re entitled to have everything the way it is comfortable for you. It casts a bad light on the rest of us expats who make a living here, find deep and satisfying relationships, and take the bad with the good.

    What I really don’t get is why or why you would put your name to such an ignorant piece of bigotry.

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Wonamin – Well done on finding a deep and satisfying relationship in a place that you like. That’s happened to me a lot too. I don’t like the place based on my experience – not because I was feeling ‘entitled’ to anything – and I certainly don’t crave comfort when travelling – that’s somewhat of an oxymoron. I just found South Koreans extremely rude and cold. I’m allowed to have that opinion just as much as you’re entitled to think I’m a douchebag.

      It’s not bigotry to not like a place and to express this. Get off your soap box and have a reality check.

  3. Anthony Middleton Reply

    Hey Wanda,

    Looks like you had a very similar experience to me. I tried to like it and I tried to look for nicer people, but like yourself – no joy! Yes rude, that is the very first adjective that I think about when I think of South Korea.

    Well done for finding a good'n though 🙂

  4. J Reply

    I empathize with the lack of friendliness towards foreigners in Korea. One of the reasons is because “foreign” teachers who come to teach English in Korea tend to be second rate people – that is, they have nothing going for them back at home and want to prolong the college hook up experience. Most Koreans first real interaction with a foreigner would be one of the many foreign teachers.

    Another reason is … Koreans are xenophobic (to say it nicely).

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      Thanks for you empathy! It seems I am being accused by some of being xenophobic for saying that most Koreans who I met were xenophobic! Yeah I get some foreigners might not be the best behaved over there, but I’ve never felt a coldness like I did over there.

    2. Tim Reply

      Does that mean that Koreans that come to America are also second rate losers and can’t find jobs in their own country?? Koreans that immigrate to America never commit crimes, well, except for human trafficking in the ubiquitous massage parlors, a mass shooting, visa fraud at ESL schools, murder, domestic violence….shall I continue? If a dirty foreign teacher gets caught with a joint the KT and Herald will run a headline, “Foreign teachers are drug abusers”. I’ve had several Korean ESL students in the US who bragged about their pot smoking. Of course it’s just A-OK for them to break laws here. You so much as fart on a subway in Korea and the media demonization of all foreign teachers will begin shortly thereafter.

      I didn’t teach for 3 years because of what happened to me on that little peninsula. You can’t teach people who already know everything. Ajosshis (sp), you know, the hostile little middle aged guys, just couldn’t stand the fact that we knew more English than they did. I was challenged all of the time despite being a native speaker and only speaking the language for 35 plus years. Many resented having to learn English and did everything they could to make my life miserable in the classroom.

      The funny thing is that now I teach some Koreans in the US and every single one of them will do practically anything to avoid returning home. If Korea is so great, why do so many of them leave?

      Now that I’m more qualified and much more experienced I would never in a million years endeavor to ‘teach’ in Korea again. I caution people to avoid Korea like the plague. It will mess you up in the head, sometimes permanently if you stay too long.

  5. J Reply

    “prolong the college hook up experience” with an Asian fetish to boot.

  6. Simon Bndr Reply

    Absolutely agree with every word you said. I spent an exchange semester in Seoul and never have I ever felt more unwanted in any place before. The Korean people are extremely superficial, racist, rude and very unfriendly. I hope I will never have to visit Korea again in my life and cannot recommend it to anyone. I am also 100% on your side regarding Japan: Most friendly, helpful and welcoming people in the world. Visit Japan – you´re gonna love it!

  7. B Reply

    I hate Korea. I hate it. So god damn much. But, I completely disagree when you say that Korean people are rude, especially against foreigners. As in matter of fact, I think towards foreigners, Koreans are extra friendly. Living here for 9 years, the friendliness is probably what I’m going to miss most. That, and the wonderful skyline. But South Korea still sucks. The education culture sucks, the work culture sucks, the language sucks, etc… But they are some of the most polite, friendly people to hang around.

  8. none Reply

    KOREA FUCKING TERRIBLE ! the people especially, deceitful, selfish, racist.
    The best part is that Koreans think they are a major world economy, when actually no one gives a shit about them, and we care more about North Korea. Stay away from here!

  9. Jake Reply

    I’ve lived here almost 3 years teaching in public school. I’m from London, England. My experiences here as a non white male in his early 30’s have been up and down. Mostly down. I barely go out and socialize with Koreans. (mainly stick to foreign bars) My experiences of Koreans/Korea have made me this way. There is racism here, it exists on all four corners of the planet. But what really annoys me more than anything else is there’s no individuality. They all think, talk, dress, eat the same. Of course there are a fair few folk who do realise the direction Korea is going in and want to make a difference. But most aren’t bothered. I don’t plan on living here for the rest of my life at all. Best advise I can give is take everything with a pinch of salt and save up as much as you can.

  10. matt Reply

    You just visited – try living there!
    I did – went there open minded. Had no problems with Korea – had never really spoken to a Korean before leaving. Had not heard that they were so racist or that they considered themselves superior to other cultures. I also didn’t know that they judge people on EVERYTHING. It was an eye opening experience. Now … now even though I have some Korean friends, I find that I really dislike Korea. I don’t like feeling that way, it saps your strength, that negativity, but you can only hear someone tell you how great and perfect they are until it starts rubbing you the wrong way. Also, what is with the complete lack of manners? If a country cannot learn to single file when walking down a street, it is never going to be a desirable place to spend time within.
    And yes, why do they all want to leave if it is so perfect?
    Why do they all get plastic surgery if they are the most beautiful race in the world?
    But at least there is the cancer known as Kpop – which isn’t a cultural appropriation of American pop, don’t be ridiculous.

  11. jose Reply

    Koreans are poorly educated, they study a lot in schools to get good jobs but nobody teach them about manners. Is a “image” country, they only care about buying clothes, listening to commercial junk music like K pop and getting surgery. They spit on the floor every 30 seconds as if they had a problem in their mouth, there are trash everywhere, cars don´t respect pedestrians and also the architecture is ugly, everywhere looks same full of horrible buildings that are expensive to rent but its design is crap, you take the bus or subway and smell awful probably because the food they eat specially kimchi, so my recommendation is to go to Japan, which is a beautiful country, clean with respectful people, do not waste your time in Korea there is nothing to see, luckily I’m returning now to my country Chile to be with real people:)

    1. Toby Reply

      Koreans are racist? 😀 This a pretty ridiculous comment. You pretty much dehumanized an entire culture and declared them as not “real” because they like kimchi, kpop, different architectural preferences, and don’t regularly talk to strangers. Great job man!

  12. Waygukyoja Reply

    The korean people are lovely, except the gaejossi (middle aged men) Unfortunately due to it being the hermit kingdom you will rarely experience this unless you know the language or meet koreans who have been sufficiently exposed to outsiders.
    If you speak the language well it has been my experience that they treat you very differently.

  13. Nishi Reply

    I was in Japan the other day and some guy said to me, “Do you know Anthony Middleton?”

    I said, “Huh?”

    Then he added, “We Japanese all hate his cocksucking faggot ass guts!”

  14. Mandy Reply

    I could not agree more. I did a one-year teaching stint in Korea a few years ago and apart from a short initial honeymoon period, very quickly grew to dislike the place. I found so many aspects of it disagreeable, and at around the halfway mark of my stay was already counting down the days to leaving. It is such a vain, superficial, empty society, lacking in any real character of its own, and indeed often racist and xenophobic, such that I honestly just became miserable being there.

    And yeah, Japan is miles above Korea in pretty much every way possible. My experience in China was also much better. I don’t know how Korea grew so popular (at least in some circles), but I do know that I don’t ever want to go back.

  15. BHK Reply

    Naw. You had it about right. And if you thought things were rough for you as a white person, you should see how SE Asian people are treated here. I have no problem with your article at all. I’ve been living here for 6 years and I couldn’t find a single lie. On my way out of here soon!

  16. Sean Reply

    “I couldn’t form superficial, transient friendships with the locals in my one week in country, therefore the entire country sucks.”

    Yes, Koreans can be rude on the surface. It’s a society that rewards cultivating friendships over many years over short term relationships. That’s just how it is. Japan is the opposite in that people are nice to you at first but never let you get close, which is why I preferred Korea having lived in both countries.

    The author of this blog was obviously a very shallow, closed minded, and entitled during his travels. I should add that we spent two weeks in Vietnam and managed to befriend locals there without money being involved.

  17. New yorker Reply

    Yeah, because your one second experience in Seoul is valid enough to write a disgusting blog entry like this. Maybe it’s because you’re a douchebag. The Koreans I met were super friendly, walked me to where I needed to go when I asked directions. And the partying is out of this world. Maybe you were lost in a business district during rush hour you cunt. Try asking for directions during rush hour in NYC where I’m from and see how friendly folks are

    1. Anthony Middleton Reply

      You’re such a hysterical moron that you don’t see your own glaring double standards. So it’s ok to observe that New Yorkers aren’t friendly as a subjective experience, but it’s not ok to say the same about Seoul? Because, “muh different culture tho.” And I’m guessing the fact they don’t help you in New York has nothing to do with you being a douchebag? Get the fuck out of here.

  18. Ben Reply

    UK or US tourists should go to Japan. Japanese are more polite to strangers and so they’ll feel good about themselves after brief and superficial encounters. Korea is just not a great place for tourists, specially if they’re in need of attention. Koreans in Korea are tough, busy as hell and focus on their families and friends, war and great poverty is still in the minds of many.
    So understand that your precious vacation around the world in search of open minded-ness means nothing to them. Also as a white young male with no wife and kid -someone free and independant- you typically inspire distrust, and if the prospect of a lasting relationship is gone then there’s no real need to act friendly towards you. It’s the same thing in Japan except they will smile more and be deferent to anyone but they feel the exact same way about you.

  19. Jay Reply

    I once heard this from a very well respected foreign resident who’s family history in Korea dates back to 1885. He’s also White, but with American ancestory, and he was born and raised in Korea, as was his father, and his father’s father. I say this to establish that he’s a very clued-in foreigner when it comes to oppinion’s about Korean culture, so here’s what he shared with us in a lecture:

    “Koreans will either be the most rudest or the most kindest people you will ever meet in your life. What determines which one they will be for you is the answer to this question, ‘Are you in or outside the circle?'”

    Essentially, if you do not know anyone or have anything (circumstance, relevant issue or prop) in Korea to break the ice of you being a stranger. Then you will practically be treated like a ghost.

    It sounds like you were here for a short period and had some bad luck. Also you may have unknowingly looked, dressed, appeared or behaved in some way that caused people to avoid you, even though you may have had no bad intentions. Koreans are very much into vibes and have a cultural construct and operating mode they use to judge people and situations non-verbally called “noonchi” which Koreans describe as an astute, telepathic-like, profiling strategy to form theory of mind about other people’s motives, feelings or a situation. It can be insanely accurate, or way off, especially if you give off certain vibes, mannerisms and gestures. For example people who having resting bitch or asshole faces.

    1. Steven Reply

      To me it seemed more like a minority just didn’t care for foreigners and didn’t see a need to be polite just for the sake of it. The rest were either indifferent or actually really friendly. I didn’t perceive that much of a thawing out process, nothing like what you get in much of Europe where they can be very distant to strangers to start off with.

      That said, in Korea the vibe on the whole definitely felt a bit less friendly than other places in Asia I’ve been to. I could see sensitive personality types maybe finding that part of it a bit difficult.

  20. BeenThereSeenThat Reply

    Seems like a few butthurt losers here believe non-Koreans cannot be honest about their horrific or disgusting time in a place such a huge part of the population call Hell and are super miserable in, themselves.

    Having lived in Korea 5 years, I increasingly found the people massively deluded by the weird racial supremacy propaganda- something akin to Nazi Germany and Facist Italy in the 1930s – perhaps to cheer themselves up, but more from what I heard from Koreans, that it helps them feel better because the breed of Confucism there results in nearly everyone trying to tread on or out-stomp those younger/poorer/weaker, etc., than themselves.
    I certainly noticed in companies I worked in there that women and younger/less senior in “rank” get shat on and slave dives most of the time while less capable “higher up” nobodies sit out in the toilet cubicles/smoke outside, chat online most of the day. Similar sort of peaking order played out in office dinners, where the women/younger people had to pour drinks, cook meat/eat the scraps, etc. and get snarled/yelled out by drunken, fowl toads.

  21. Edward Petersson Reply

    Well, that does come with the turf, lad.
    Korea has long been a down-trodden piece of turf, for centuries or longer.
    Korea has had to stick with being the underdog, scaping and copying from other countries, getting aid/soft loans, overseas technology, etc., to build the country.
    Even if Koreans claim they did it all themselves, inwardly they mostly know it’s not so true. All this must wreck havoc on their minds. Still, perhaps they could try a bit more to live up to the claims they are a polite, warm-hearted and sincere people.