Korean subway etiquette & norms

I remember my first time in the Seoul subway and how disturbed I was of the "null" faces and how eerily quiet the train was...  I was a newbie 5 years ago.  A non-city girl.  The subway was intimidating and all so new. 

Knowing the norms and etiquette will probably make things easier.  Here are some things I've learned over the years.

The etiquette is not to talk out loud.  You can, surely, but you will probably get a stare or two.  But it will most likely be annoying to most passengers and they won't say much, but you don't want to give off that vibe, right?  Koreans are typically "tired people" - they work super hard and have longer working hours and so do the students too - that might explain their null faces.  So don't talk like you're at a bar.  There are certain days when the subways are a bit upbeat - probably the weekends.  So use common sense and talk accordingly.

Don't block the doors or walk ways.  This rule applies to everyone.  Don't block the door making passengers hard to get in and out of the train.  Simple enough, right?

You will get pushed or shoved.  This is something I still have a hard time getting used to.  This is nothing personal, but people will push or get in your "personal space" to get through.  Much worse in the rush hours and packed trains.  So don't take it personally if it happens and just brush it off.  If you have to get through people in a packed subway, you can say "jahm-shi-mahn-yo" (excuse me) to have people move out of the way without pushing them - it works sometimes, if it doesn't use a gentle "push" and they won't mind ;)

No PDA.  Korea has a different culture.  Kissing("heavy") is looked down upon in public places - pecking has become okay over time - but still not very common to see.   Holding hands is totally fine - but heavy PDAs are no nos.  Just respect the fact that some cultures - especially Korea is not okay to see you lovey doveying in public.

not a good way to behave in Korea

Older people will cut you off.  It doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen time to time and they do so like it was their right (it's a cultural thing).   I just brush it off (and most do) if they're really old and are in the need to get on earlier, but if they look normal and fine and not old enough to think they have the right - I have said some things and they act very indifferent and talk back.  I'm a rebel :P

Offer and give your seat to elders (pregnant/handicapped).  This is a Korean thing, but it's almost a must for you to give up your seat if a senior citizen(?) is around your vision.  Unless you have a thick skin, you don't have to give up your seat, but don't be surprised if they do act and put on a show (holding on to the handles or bar for dear life, acting old, mumbling..etc) for you that you need to give up your seat.  Not every old Korean person is bitter and angry, but don't expect "thank you" or a "smile" if you do end up giving that seat.

Follow the crowd.  Walk on the right side and walk at the pace the crowd is walking if you want to avoid collisions.  If you're a slow walker and want to go your own pace, stay on the right side and you'll be safe from fast busy walkers.

Stand on the right side of the escalators.   So the "busy ones" can walk the escalators on the left side.  Koreans as I said earlier are "busy" people; they like to get to their destinations fast and want nothing stopping them.

Don't wear cleavage revealing shirts (women).   It's hard to understand how it's okay to have girls wear mini mini mini skirts(even in winter) when any small cleavage gets stares or weird preying eyes.   I've experienced this during my noob years in Korea when I had no clue and received some awful stares from both men and women.  If you like getting stared at, this rule should not apply to you.  But I didn't appreciate the perverted stares and since then avoid wearing any shirts close to showing any cleavage.
I miss wearing cute airy shirts on a hot summer day...sigh*

Don't swing on the handle bars.   Be nice to public property.


There's a lot of stairs in most subways.  So please be advised to wear something comfortable if you're not used to stairs and walking.

You will get a few stares and it's all too common.   I still get "stared at" a few times when I'm out and about - sometimes I even get the awful "up & down stare".  Maybe it's because I don't dress "trendy" enough for Seoul or whatever the reason is, I just brush if off~  This was hard to get used to.. I can't give you a clear reason why a lot of Koreans do "stare" (even among themselves).  But they do and it's nothing personal - just cultural (an easy way to understand things).  Oh well!

If there is anymore, I will update~

photo credit: Chicago Man via photopin cc

1 comment:

  1. perused through the site, started with the paleo blog. just wanted to comment that even though I am korean, I can never get used to the pushing or the staring. NY subways are dirtier but I can cope with that.


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