Immediately after we unpacked our bags in South Korea, we realized that there are some things that this country just does bigger and better than any other country.
One thing we know for sure is that there's no other place in the world like Korea.
1. Department Stores are HUGE in Korea
These Costco-sized, multi-level giants are your one-stop-shop for everything from flatscreen televisions, to pantyhose and bananas. It comes as no surprise that Korea is home to the largest department store in the world.
Many of the malls are luxurious and have features like rooftop restaurants, spas and water fountains with hourly shows.
2. Side Dishes are a BIG deal in Korea
Korean is the only cuisine (I know of!) where the side dishes are more important than the main course.
Most meals are accompanied with an assortment of small bowls containing noodles, kimchi, fish, and vegetables. It exhausts me just thinking about the amount of effort that goes into preparing all that food.
3. Coffee shops in Korea are on another level
Before arrive in Korea, we were under the impression that we wouldn't be able to get coffee here. Oh, how wrong we were. There are coffee shops everywhere... like 5 on each block. You can even find them near many trailheads so you're caffinated for your hike!
Going to a coffee shop with your coworkers or friends is a big part of culture, and there's more than just plain old Starbucks.
In Korea, you'll find tons of themed cafes ranging from cat and dog cafes everywhere in the country to quirky, one-of-a-kind cafes, like one in Seoul that features real Volkswagen buses and even a poop-themed cafe where the drinks come in toilet-shaped mugs.
4. Koreans are serious about Hiking
More than 70 percent of this country is mountainous terrain, making hiking a favorite pastime among Koreans.
Each weekend, the trails are packed with neon-clad hikers clutching bottles of soju and makgeolli (rice wine). After seeing countless middle-aged women dressed in fuchsia hiking jackets and poles to match, we realized that the loud nylon outfits are more fashion statement than necessity. If you wish to fit in with the crowds, dress to impress.
5. Fast food delivery in Korea is a serious business
Have you ever walked down a sidewalk and almost been run over by a motorcycle? If you answered "no", you must not live in Korea -- it's a common occurrence here.
Where are they going in such a hurry? To deliver food, of course! Chinese, pizza, fried chicken... Hey, even McDonald's delivers in Korea!
I saw a delivery man pull up to my school at least once a week to drop off boxes for hungrily-awaiting teachers. It seems to be just an afternoon snack.
And most delivery places will bring you real bowls and cutlery -- not the plastic kind. Once you're finished, set it outside your door to be collected by the deliveryman later.
6. Fan sections at Korean sporting events are WILD!
Entering sporting events in Korea doesn't involve getting your pockets patted and your handbag searched. In fact, bringing in fried chicken and beer by the bagful is encouraged.
From baseball games to volleyball matches, Koreans sure do love to cheer on their favorite teams!
And the cheering? It never stops. There are even dedicated cheering coaches in the stands to lead the crowds in chants.
7. Everybody has smart phones (and we mean EVERYBODY!)
With the Samsung and LG factories just a mile from our apartment, it is no surprise that cell phones are even more prevalent here than in the United States.
Just observe the passengers next to you on the subway. They are all on their phones. Every. Single. One.
And not just talking or texting, but streaming television shows and playing online games as well. Koreans have the fastest internet speed in the world to thank for being able to do just about anything on their phones from just about anywhere.
8. Being a couple is a HUGE deal in Korea
You don't have to spend much time in Korea to understand that being a couple is a big deal.
Boyfriends and girlfriends don't just color coordinate their clothes, they wear completely matching outfits. And beneath their clothes, matching undergarments. No, this is not a joke.
Also, there are certain days that are well, just for couples. Christmas, for example, is not a holiday to be celebrated with family, but is instead an excuse to have a date night with your hunny.
9. There are 24-Hour Marts everywhere in Korea
Late-night cravings have met their match.
Over the past decade, 24-hour marts have been popping up on every corner, and like the name infers, they never close.
Oh, and another great thing about these marts is they sell beer (and other alcoholic beverages) for cheap, and in the bigger marts they have tables where you can eat and drink your purchases. It's kind of like a super cheap dive bar!
Selfies, selfies everywhere! There's no shame in documenting even the most mundane parts of your day.
Riding the bus selfie. Drinking coffee selfie. Crossing the street selfie.
At many public attractions, there is a sign that says "photo spot", from which you can stand and get your selfie on!
It is also acceptable to use "selfie mode" on your phone as a mirror in public. Oh and don't get me started on selfie sticks. Watch where you are walking -- you may have to do the limbo to avoid being clotheslined by one of these bad boys.
11. Super fast shipping is the norm in Korea
When it comes to shipping, Amazon doesn't stand a chance against the major online companies in Korea. Standard shipping here is 48 hours, and often your merchandise will arrive even sooner.
I ordered a hair dryer online from GMarket late one afternoon and it arrived the next day without any additional fee. And shipping on this $10 item was just two dollars.
Sometimes you can even order items and have the delivered the same exact day. Yes, THE SAME DAY.
As you can imagine, inexpensive and fast shipping makes for a dangerous addiction.
12. Outdoor exercise equipment is a thing
Do you ever get the urge to pump some iron as you're walking home from work? Really, you don't? Maybe it's just a Korean thing... I pass two "exercise parks" on my 8-minute walk to school, and when I'm lucky I'll spot a man in business clothes workin' up a sweat.
Yes, it's exactly what you're imagining -- random clusters of exercise equipment. And they really are everywhere. If you can ignore the stares from oncoming traffic, you'll get quite a good workout without ever stepping foot in a gym!