Monday, 16 November 2009

South Koreans are friendlier to Western tourists?

Results of a survey conducted by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute show that South Koreans are more hospitable towards Western tourists compared to their Asian counterparts.

Visitors from 16 countries took a survey during the first half of 2009. Of the 5,822 participants, tourists from Western countries gave Koreans high points for hospitality while tourists from Asian countries gave them a lower rating.

Malaysian tourists: Rooster (left) and Orchid en route to Namsan

The Germans (79.7%) and French (77.9%) think South Koreans are friendly, followed by the British (77.1%), Americans (73%) and Australians (71.4%).

Meanwhile, tourists from Asia gave a lower rating: Taiwan (32.8%), Thailand (48.9%), Japan (48.6%) and Hong Kong/Singapore (44.5%). This suggests that Koreans are selective when it comes to showing hospitality.

I believe this happens in Malaysia too. Friends have lamented how Malaysians can be all smiley and kind towards the Mat Salleh (white guys) but show a long face towards fellow Malaysians/ Asians. Sigh.

For health and vitality: Don't forget to eat fruits even in
a foreign land. Rooster buys oranges.

Nonetheless, when the K-popped! Trio were in Seoul last November, we didn’t run into any particularly rude person.... Maybe there was that street food ajumma who fleeced Orchid and I and there was that waitress who was a little moody…but Koreans were generally friendly to us Malaysian gals.

An ajusshi even directed Orchid and I to a more happening tourist spot when we were walking about aimlessly, and who can forget the friendly (and efficient) staff at Doulos Hotel?

What about you, do you have a gripe (or praise) about hospitality in South Korea?

Source: The Korea Herald

More on K-popped! Trio in Seoul


cynkoh23 said...

I think that's probably true. On my second trip to Korea in April 2009, I was by myself, and felt that locals looked a little afraid when approached by Asians (I wanted to ask them to help take a photo for me.)They do not smile, nor do they say "annyeong" in return when you greet them (except for the ones working in tourist centres.)

tee said...

scared now reading this...
as im about to go to korea in december...
hope they would be ok...^^

Ayumi said...

tee, don't worry about it~ ^^

Hmmm, it's kinda sensitive topic...

The following is just my interpretation:
Koreans are generally extremely stressed with their study/work lives, so they are often poker-faced.
Also, they don't usually exchange 'ahn-nyung-ha-se-yo' with strangers unlike some Malaysians and many Americans & Europeans.
(By the way, 'ahn-nyung' is very informal and exchanged only with people you know, not with strangers)

Westerners look OBVIOIUSLY like tourists and
also, they tend to smile more when they ask Koreans for locations, etc.
Koreans smile back to smiley people.
(So, my advice is that when you ask strangers for information - whether you are in Korea or in America or in France - smile~!)

Koreans can't tell who are tourists and who are locals when Jap/Chi people are among them in Korea.

Seoul is a cosmopolitan international city - they are accustomed to foreigners;
unless the foreigners/tourists are friendly to them, they are not friendly, either...They won't try to smile.
Probably, they must be pondering on their complicated lives, bad economy, nasty office politics, bad grades, etc. mindlessly in the streets or on subways.
In other international cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, it's also similar.

In KL, also people are more friendly to Westerners..Especially Indian women really love western men ^^ (it's a long story...but I have some Indian female pals who hit on western guys a lot, hehe :)

But can't deny maybe Koreans and Japanese are more friendly to those who speak good English
(with good pronunciation) whether you are from Hong Kong or from America...
I guess it's to do with their inferior complex with the English language.
They become extra-friendly to good English speakers in order to cover their embarrassment of not being able to communicate in English well. Also, Koreans tend to smile or laugh when they are embarrassed.

Japanese are similar, too.
There's even a saying in Japan, if the tourists wanna be treated nicely, they'd better not try to speak in their awkward Japanese but try to speak in English. Believe it or not, it's kinda true...
Oops, again wrote too much ^^ Have a relaxing evening, guys~!

lelia said...

My first trip to korea in nov 2007, i felt the same, not that friendly atmosphere. I walked into a bakery asking for toilet, and they thought we are robbers or what? so afraid to let us use the toilet.

Their dramas are good and friendly and loving elements in most of the storyline.

In real life, it's different.

Yes, agreed with you, Malaysians are mostly the same, treating mat salleh nicer as compared to locals and asians.

Mats said...

I had a trip to Seoul last year's summer... I had 2 bad experience when I was there...

First when I & my mum at Dongdaemun street, it raining heavily, we stand by in front of a shop for a shelter but then the owner just shooed us off with his perfect English saying that it was his shop bla bla bla... then we walked away through the rain

Second, when I was in a subway station, going down on escalator, a man purposely pushed me to go down fast BUT actually the lane that I was in was not for priority lane for those who just want to walk down fast the escalator instead of just standing.. sighh

BUT many good things I encountered when I was in Seoul too...

1st - At a subway, I want to buy ticket but I don't know how. Then I asked a school girl with her mum. I spoke Korean "yongoreul ashimnikka?" then the girl's mother asked her daughter to do it for me. That time I want to go to Cheong-gye-cheon from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. =)

2nd - I stayed in Seoul Palace Hotel. The morning breakfast was REALLY FREAKING NICE !! lol. The staffs also very friendly & able to speak Japanese fluently with a little English.

3rd - I was at Seoul Express Bus Terminal underground mall. Every nite I will go to a Baskin Robbins there & the staffs were really friendly. Even try to chat with me in English.

4th - When I was in Everland, I just finish ride T-Express roller coaster & wanted to buy the on-ride pictures. The guy who in charge also really friendly since again, I spoke Korean asking him can he speaks English & he replied "chogum"... =)

Overall, Seoul is still a good place for holiday trip BUT not for shopping leisure since (in my observation) price bit expensive & most of the shops will become unhappy when we visited their shop, touched their things but at the end not buy it (we have the right to try & make decision first right?)

And most important is language barrier since most of Koreans can't speak English well or do not know English at all.

Ayumi said...


Actually, shop keepers in the markets (middle-aged ahjumma & ajussi) can be a little scary and rough mouthed; they don't like it if customers - whether they are locals or tourists- touch their products they arranged in order and don't buy them...
All they care about is their profits, since prices have been skyrocketing in Korea and they have to make a living in bad economy.
They are tough folks...a bit like shop keepers in China Town, KL.

Also, there’s a superstition that if the frontal view of their shops is blocked by pedestrians (who wanna avoid rain, snow, etc.), that day’s profit will not be big; similar superstition is that taxi drivers don’t want to have a female as their first customer.

However, at quality malls and dept stores, etc. where younger staffs are serving, they are very friendly and service-minded -- they are trained to do so.

I can be expensive there. In Japan, things are even more expensive.
The thing is that Korea is a wealthy nation; most Koreans I know in Seoul earn RM8,000~over RM20,000.

For shopping, Dongdaemun market is a lot of fun, open 24 hrs and things are rather cheap.
And 'Myeong-dong' has a string of famous Korean cosmetic shops, where cosmetics are very cheap and they have very friendly staffs who speak some foreign languages.
You get tons of ‘samples’ (such as astringents, lotions, toners, facial sheets, BB creams, etc.)
if you purchase some cosmetics there.

'Gangnam' station underground mall is recommendable, too.
‘Insa-dong’ has many interesting local eateries, cafes, traditional bars and they sell many souvenirs very Korean.

If you wanna experience chic exotic cafes, restaurants, unique clothes, and accessories, ‘Apgujeong Rodeo Street’ is the best.
It's a bit like 'Alice in Wonderland'...American, Japanese and European styles all mixed…and the result is very unique and intriguing.
Many Korean Celebs hang out there (and in ‘Cheongdam-dong’, too. Cheongdam-dong is posh, has stylish cafes, clubs, luxury brand stores and nowadays more like Korean ‘Beverly Hill’. Andre Kim’s shop is near there).

‘Itaewon’ is like 'Little America'.

Numerous Korean Palaces, Nam-yi Island, Chung-gye-chun River, Han River cruising, 63 building, Shinchon area, COEX Mall, Lotte World, Everland
(this place is biiigg and so much fun. Renovated more fancily recently)
are worth checking out in Seoul, too.

It would be interesting to visit a restaurant and a cafe run by Korean celebs (such as Bae Yong-joon, Kwon Sang-woo) or go to new movie premieres where you can spot some celebrities or fan signing events.
One of my acquaintances visited Lee Minho’s management firm (Starhaus Entertainment).

The best way to enjoy traveling in Korea is to have a Korean friend there to guide you or befriend a local travel guide…especially, if you wanna have fun in Hong-dae, where some cool places are kinda hidden.

If you are fun-loving, you shouldn't miss Hong-dae area...
Go there on weekends with a friend or two,
try the really yummy (but spicy ^^) street food, shop, hit galleries, independent films, street performances & installations, tarot/fortune readings, clubs, B-boy gigs at hip hop clubs, karaokes (equipped with free buffet ice cream, Internet, magazines, etc.), and weekend flea markets.
Hon-ick University (Hong-dae) area is very hip and arty cuz I think the ‘Fine Art Dept. of that uni is the most renowned in Korea; Gwon Sang-woo graduated from that dept.

I had the craaaziest & most fun night in my life there with a Korean friend;
went there on 'Club Day' - filled our stomachs with street food (with ddukpokki, odeng, kimbap, sundae, and barbecued sausages),
hit a sorta ‘cultural complex’ full of galleries, comic book store, dog cafe, karaoke and
hopped 5 clubs (some of the ‘Club Day’ designated clubs), 'Princess' cafĂ©, where I chatted with my female friend till 4 am and crushed for bout 2 hrs there in the early morning.
Many places there are open all night.

Ayumi said...


Mostly, Korean people are genuine and welcome & appreciate tourists for coming to their country.
One tip I wanna give you is that they tend to be enthusiastic about foreigners who are interested in Korea and its culture.

Every country has friendly people and weird/selfish people.
In developed cities like New York or Paris, citizens there are notorious for being very unfriendly to tourists.
Europeans in general are usually indifferent to tourists.

A Korean pal of mine had her wallet snatched, and cheated by numerous taxi drivers and had bad experiences here in Kuala Lumpur,
but I tried to show her good/fun sides of Malaysia by showing her around interesting places and good people here.

Koreans will definitely become friendlier as 2010~2012 are 'Visit Korea Year'

The following site is quite new but extensive and informative; it’ll be very helpful for those who want to travel in Korea.

Up-to-date events going on in Korea

Sorry, guys, for some possible typos ^^. Typed like in warp speed. Gotta take off now to grab something to eat..Cheers!

Ayumi said...

Typo -
'crashed there', not 'crushed there':)

Batrisyia said...

Ayumi: i literally read all your comment haha blimeyy! ;D Loads of interesting infoo thank you.

im malaysian, living in london and i really wnna go to korea.
here, i got few korean friend in college , oh my dayzzz they are so snobbish seriously especially the female is like they anti social behaviour somefin like that plus feeling unsecured still no offensed tho it my experienced innit. But the best fings is boys are pretty cool especially their dressup :), effing nicee with their bigbang shoes innit.
And one particular fing make me realize that what i saw in drama and idol groups face is just oppositee. i guess the ones who get into th tv, those are like the lucky, really talented one with the package of pretty and buff faces hurmm :))

Ayumi said...

>>Loads of interesting infoo thank malaysian, living in london and i really wnna go to korea.<<

*sipping coffee*
Hey, gal~ Thanks for da nice words!
If you like the info, save it somewhere to refer to when you go to Seoul *wink*

>>so snobbish seriously especially the female is like they anti social behaviour..<<
Yeah, Korean students who study abroad are well known for their 'cliquish' behaviors - they hang out only with Koreans.
I think they are just very afraid (or even terrified) to be alone or to make friends from other countries and as you mentioned, kinda insecure due to communication problem.

That or
^^maybe some are really snobbish..When I was in Paris for a while, I was disillusioned by some arrogant self-praising Korean students (whose parents were extremely loaded) LOL.

HOwever, there are many good Koreans out there; once you form friendship with them, friendship often lasts forever..
Hope you'll befriend a nice Korean to show you around exciting Hongdae area and eat delicious street food together!

Anonymous said...

I don't read much into these things and I think people shouldn't either. Every country has its share of the goods and bads -- isn't that the essence of traveling? To experience and learn about different cultures?

Essentially, when we're all traveling, paying cultural respects is a must and something that should be stressed.

And as a native New Yorker -- Haha, I have to laugh every time someone starts stereotyping us. But it happens. So what do you do about it? Just be nice. Heck, a family of European tourists were really RUDE to me once and I was highly amused, but it's not something one should worry over.

Traveling should be fun. Not stressful :)

okiroo said...

Your statement is partly true that Korean used to have little favoritism for western culture. I think reason why, because of media. As a korean, I can say we used to exposured to the western culture stuff with envy by watching a soaf opera and entertaining show via media.

However, i can see really interesting post and comments following your article. I think the one of the main reason why people had bad experience. Because they were in Seoul where is really busy area. For native korean, they also used to face with those annoying stuffs in Seoul. I am also quite stressful even walking around the street in Seoul either. I highly recommend you to go to the rural while you are traveling around S. korea again.

silveraven said...

i love ayumi's comment! haha~ :)

it's true that if you wanna really experience any country properly, it's best to get a local friend to show you around. you'll never get lost and you'll never have that language problem (assuming you and your friend doesn't have problems in language with each other~).

i met some koreans a couple of weeks ago during an international meet in germany. they were really nice people! yes, they do stick together a lot and you sorta have to push yourself into the clique to get to know them but after that they're really warm. ^^

borgy said...

i somewhat do agree with the article, but i think the phenomena is evident in the countries that had been colonized by 1st world countries before. it's in history and also like one of the comments above said, the fault of media.

Im going to Korea this Sunday and it's my 1st time travelling overseas without my family. Im anxious about how Koreans will treat me but im also REALLY EXCITED about the trip. We can't generalize what a few Koreans did to be applicable to all Koreans. Im trying to see the good in people and believe that if we're nice, nice things come to us in return.

Tee, ure going to Korean in December? Ill be there for a whole month. if you're interested in sight-seeing together, u can mail me at

NiNi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NiNi said...

Yup, I myself think it's pretty true. This can even be seen not only in Korea, but also in Malaysia itself. I'm currently a diploma student in X college(not disclosing name), which is flooded by certain population of Korean students.
During the orientation day, me and my friend sat right beside two Korean students. When I went to the toilet, my friend tried to make friends with them. However, they did not respond and showed unwillingness to talk to her. But when a few American exchange students sat beside them, they were excited and automatically turn to them to start a conversation. After a few months, my Korean classmates too expressed that they love blondies more than Asians. Hmm... Perhaps it's due to political(?) influence, the bond between both countries are stronger. Just my personal experience. :)

Financial Econometrician said...

I am a Korean myself (but I am no nationalistic in personal philosophy but rather being neutral/ignorant if you'd like) but leaving abroad at the moment. Quite a lot of things you have observed and experienced in Korea and from Korean students around you seem to be true, and I like the fact that many are in fond of Korean pop culture and consider it as a big trend beyond a culture specific to a country.

As in all other countries, Korea may have some nice people and those who are not at the same time. It's hard to generalise and I believe there is no point of doing so, but mostly the younger generation who has no business to do with tourists/traveller tends to be nicer when asked directions and locations, and I believe there must be quite a few who would walk you there if not too distant (I did so myself), while many merchants or whoever having business to do with foreign visitors are likely to be pushy and aggressive particularly in Dongdaemun or any other cheap shopping spots (when you go to department stores or any other shops trading luxury goods, they are extremely nice ending up making you uncomfortable too).

As mentioned, Koreans are not generally good at English and many of them freak out when asked anything in English, and also true that they tend to be more friendly to Western visitors (for a mix of reasons mentioned above plus some domestic reasons). Hence when they are asked in English by Asians visitors they may suddenly freeze out since they are not prepared.

There also can be some who are prejudiced towards South East Asians residing in Korea, and domestic crimes by them, but that's just a few of them who are badly ignorant. When compared to domestic violence by foreign residents per head, that by locals must be higher than that. Such racists are everywhere with distorted view on the world, not knowing what they are doing at all, and hence we don't really have to think too seriously about them; they only a group of worst people easily found here and there wherever you go.

The culture you like and I grew up with is not only for Koreans but for all those who love it. It is not even our culture since it already contains lots of different cultural mixes, and they are only selling them to the world with no specific national tag on it, just like we in the past all liked American pop culture and it was a global thing that everyone could access. I am personally happy to have a big common denominator to share with other Asians, and hope it to grow to an extent where we could all be together as friends upon that culture.

Comments and questions welcome if you'd like,


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