Differences Between China and Korea
Now that I’m only a few weeks away from going back to Korea to visit my boyfriend Jeongsu, I started thinking about some major differences between China and South Korea. Even though they are both Asian countries and located pretty close to each other, you would think the two countries must be pretty similar. Indeed, China and Korea do have a lot in common and my Chinese friends who had been to Korea told me that they did not experience a “culture shock” of any sort and that “Korea and China are pretty much the same.” But is that really true? From an outsider’s point of view, I can definitely tell you, no it’s not.
Note: The experiences I have made are all personal and my opinions. Now, I live in a smaller Chinese city in Hunan so experiences from expats living in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou etc. may vary.
Food and How to Eat It
China is a country of food enthusiasts and food is as embedded in culture as language and customs. Korea is just the same. Food is incredibly important in Korea and just as varied as Chinese cuisine. However, there are some major differences between Chinese and Korean cuisine as well as food etiquette.
Banchan – Korean Side Dishes
Both China and Korea value the concept of eating “family style” which means having lots of different dishes on the table everybody can choose from. However, there is one distinct difference between Chinese and Korean food: banchan.
These are various Korean side dishes that are obligatory on a Korean table. They are not whole dishes, but rather small pieces of food on small tables that are used to enhance flavor of the main dishes. The most famous banchan is Kimchi, fermented vegetables seasoned with chili peppers and salt.
In China, people usually order several main dishes but there are no side dishes like banchan in Korea.
Even though chopsticks are used in both countries, there is one main difference between Chinese and Korean chopsticks. Koreans tend to use metal chopsticks whereas you find them rather rarely in China.
Another distinct difference is that Korean chopsticks don’t have round shape but almost flat. Korean chopstick have flat side and the tip form square. When looking at Chinese chopsticks, you will see that they do have a round shape or even square but they definitely aren’t flat.
Korean Sang Table
Another distinct difference is the way Koreans actually eat at home and in some restaurants. In Korea it is pretty common to eat sitting around a small folding table, called sang 상, without chairs. In China, this is certainly not a custom.
Usually the sang table is stowed away after the meal to make more room in an apartment. Korean usually do not have a “dining room” with table and chairs.
I think this is probably a big difference and I am not saying that Chinese people do not have manners but they are just perceived differently. In Korea, people are extremely polite especially to elders. In China, this is the moral rule but might not be adapted as much anymore. Bowing to show respect is also very common in Korea, whereas in China, the bow gesture is not really used anymore.
You can also see this when looking at the two languages themselves. In Korean, there actually is a “polite form” to use when talking to people that are older than you. There is no such thing in Chinese.
What sometimes makes me really annoyed in China is when I am on the bus to get to work or home from work and people are just careless and push their elbows into my spine or similar things. In Korea, this is rather uncommon.
“Pali-pali” vs. “Kuài diǎn!”
One thing I find mostly amusing in China is how people are always in a hurry, at least mostly. Especially in the mornings when going to work it seems like they would do anything just to get on that bus which is already full of people like a clown car. I just stand back and laugh a little. Is it worth it?
Koreans also do have the stereotype of being in a rush at all times, which is called “Pali-Pali” (빨리빨리) in Korean. However, I must say that while I was in Korea everything seemed a lot more relaxed and people weren’t as much in a rush as they seem to be in China. Especially at metro or bus station, people in Korea walked a little too slow for my taste sometimes haha.
Crowds of People
China is infamous for its mega-cities and masses of people living in one place. Korea is a very small country compared to China, so big cities like Seoul and Busan are crowded just as much. However, I must say that when I was in Seoul, there were times when Jeongsu and I were the only people walking in a street or next to a major sight. It was so silent that it actually freaked me out.
This could never happen in China. It’s loud and vivid and you are never alone. Never.
Korean Fashion vs. “Whatever they wear in China”
One thing that really stuck out to me in Korea is how most people, especially young people, are extremely fashionably dressed. You certainly see this in Beijing/Shanghai as well, but the majority of Chinese people, also a lot of young people, do certainly have “their own style”/Chinese style.
Korea is famous for Kpop and Hallyu is swapping over the borders into many other countries in this world. Plastic surgery and co. are very common and not frowned upon. Fashion and style are very important in Korea to both women and men. It sometimes takes more time for Jeongsu to get ready than me… just saying.
All the places I have been to in Korea, from Seoul to a rather small city like Cheongju, people were extremely fashionably dressed. The Korean fashion style in general seems to be very popular globally at the moment.
An easy way to distinguish a Korean from a Chinese: just look at their clothes!