In general, South Koreans are forgiving towards foreigners. However, there are many cultural differences. Some can be quite related but differences may still arise especially with Westerners and other foreign countries.Here are a few absolutely do-not-be-offended suggestions.
- The most obvious has to do with their Confucius history and the biggest being the importance of age and profession. Don’t be offended when someone asks your age. Usually, early on in a conversation, a South Korean will ask you how old you are. They are just establishing the “order” for how they will relate to you. I found this is as common in South Korea as someone in America asking what you do for a living. So far the three P’s are the top professions demanding respect; Professors, Physicians, and Pastors. I’m sure there are other professions that are at the top of the list but these are the ones I’m most familiar with.
- Don’t be offended when people, especially children, practice their English on you. English is the most popular second language in South Korea and most people can speak a little. I’ve heard that some foreigners are put off by this. Don’t be, It's an opportunity to practice your Korean language too. Also, it’s fun when you talk back to the children in English and then they freeze because they don’t expect you to actually talk with them!
- Don’t be offended when you find out that practically the whole country is covered with CCTV cameras. You’re being recorded just about everywhere you go. It may be why the crime rate is so low.
- Don’t throw your trash on the street in frustration because there are no trash cans anywhere. If you make some trash just take it with you until you can find a trash can or are at your place of residence.
- I agree with the taxi comment: Be careful! Usually, legitimate taxis are lined up at most stations (bus, subway, or the airport). Don’t take a Black Taxi - they are way too expensive.
- In most areas of Korea, don’t be afraid to walk around at night. I’m sure, like any major city, there are places in Seoul or Busan that should be avoided at night, but I have found that Korea is one of the safest countries, that's what I heard and known for a fact.
- Lastly, if by some chance you have the privilege of meeting a North Korean defector, treat them like anyone else. They risked their lives to live in a free country and they should be honored and respected. Don’t ask about their escape. However, you may want to ask them if there’s anything they miss about their home. They are refugees and most miss their country.