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).

Song for the moment – ‘Thanks for the memories,’ By Fall Out Boy

Notable Lyrics:
“Thanks for the memories,
even though they weren’t so great.”

Edit: Looking back at this article is weird and I don’t even recogonise the anger/bitterness anymore that I clearly had at the time. It seems that I’m first on Google for ‘South Korea Sucks’ so it’s going a bit crazy right now. Admittedly, I’d rather be ranking for a more positive post, but I’m clearly not the only one who had a bad time in South Korea. (Some of my defenders are even Korean).

One moron in the comments suggested that if I didn’t like South Korea it’s because I need everyone to like me. Well if that was the case – I wouldn’t have written this. 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 I’m not going to be word-policed by any professionally offended losers.

With that being said, I concede that I wasn’t in the place long enough to write such a damning verdict and I’m sure there’s a lot of the country that I missed out on. If you read most of my travel articles you’ll see that I have had a predominantly positive experience travelling the world, but I am always going to be honest about how I vibe with a place and that’s not going to change any time soon. 



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16 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:)

  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!”