My wife and I have been in Korea for about four months now. There are things that I miss about living in the U.S. and there are things I love about living in Korea. Obviously, I miss my friends and family, and living in an Asian culture certainly takes some getting used to, but here are a few things I like about Korea that I wish we would adopt in the United States:
1. The movie theater experience. It’s not only better in Korea; it’s much, much better. It mainly comes down to one thing: assigned seating. So, when a big movie comes out in the U.S., people pre-order tickets online, perhaps weeks in advance, show up hours(!) before showtime, then stand in long lines so they can get a good seat. We don’t watch concerts this way. We don’t watch sporting events this way. We purchase a ticket for a particular seat, show up, find our seat, and watch the event. For some reason, we haven’t figured out that we could do the same thing when watching movies. Thankfully, the Koreans have.
For The Force Awakens, we purchased our tickets online a few days before the chosen date, deciding to splurge on Gold Class – a 40-seat theater with full-on recliners. They even provide slippers to make you more comfortable. It was like watching a movie at home (if my home had a massive home theater system like a billionaire’s house would). Wake up, America!
2. The restaurant experience. I think this is mainly due to my personal preferences when it comes to the dining out experience. Personally, I like to order my food, eat my food without being bothered, get helped when I need something, and not have to wait forever for the check. Some people enjoy having conversations with their server while their food gets cold, hearing about the server’s day; I don’t. In Korea, that’s not a problem. Unless you go to a restaurant clearly geared toward foreigners, the experience goes something like this:
It’s about 50-50 regarding seating yourself or being brought to a particular table; it depends on the restaurant (much like the U.S.). You’re given a menu and usually brought water, though in smaller places, you get the water yourself from a centrally located station. Here’s where the experiences diverge, however. In Korea, most of the time the server doesn’t come back until you signal for them (usually with a wave of the hand or by catching their eye). At first, I found this annoying. Then I realized that I liked not being rushed into deciding what to eat. If we want to take five or ten minutes to figure things out, they’ll leave us be. I’ve come to like that.
Once your food arrives, you won’t see your server again unless you call for them – either with the previously mentioned tactics or by pressing a call button, which is often located at the table. If you want something else, simply ask; otherwise, no server coming around every five minutes asking if everything is alright. Leave us alone already, am I right! When you’re done eating and want to pay your bill you don’t have to flag the server down. It was either brought with your meal (in which case, you simply take it to the register and pay); or you go to the register and they have the bill waiting for you. The best part, which is also sometimes difficult for us Americans to handle – no tipping. None. The only gripe I have about restaurants here is that they haven’t quite mastered the American sense of timing the delivery of courses, as often appetizer and main dish will come out almost simultaneously. On the plus side, your meal will probably never have been sitting while your fellow diner’s meal is being plated.
3. The subway system. It’s clean, it’s cheap, and it’s very easy to navigate. To pay, you use a pre-paid card just like the Charlie Card in Boston. What’s cool is that you can also use those cards to pay for taxis (you can also pay with a credit card or cash). There are a couple of good apps you can download that help you navigate your way. The one we use is simply called Subway Korea. You enter in your origin station and your final destination and the app shows you the path to take (to include transfers and how long it will take to get there). By the train tracks are monitors that show the location of the train you’re waiting for in real time. Each train door has a corresponding number. If you’re going to a transfer station, there’s often an indication by the station name which train car you should ride in so that you’re closest to the transfer entrance point when you arrive at your stop – a simple but convenient detail. All train stop announcements are in Korean and English so if you don’t read Hangul, you won’t get lost. Finally, there is free WiFi almost everywhere, and since every single person on the train has their phone in-hand, that becomes quite convenient.