Recently, a very embarrassing incident happened in Korea where some Americans, at least I think they were American, who caused a major incident on the subway. In response to a man telling them to be quiet, they ended up scratching his face and started twerking on the subway. (You have no clue how much I wish I was making this up.) One of the women involved was said to be a school teacher. (Again, I really wish I was making this up.) It’s clear that these women were not following the subway rules and caused needless trouble. The truth is if you want to go to Korea for fun or to live, you’re probably going to take the subway at some point. Knowing the subway rules before you go is vital. So what exactly are the subway rules for Korea? Allow me to educate you on this so you don’t cause an international incident in the city of Seoul. (This is not an official rule guide, but is meant to help you on your travels. The same rules can apply to bus travel in Korea also.)
Rule 1. The Subway Waits For No One
One of the funniest, and most annoying things about traveling in the U.S. are the people who think they are more important than everyone else and that the plane can’t take off until they get on it. The truth is the plane can, and will, take off without you. While some airlines may wait for someone who was on a plane that got delayed, the subway waits for no one. People depend on the subway to get to and from work and school, so the schedule is vital in the lives of many Koreans. If you arrive barely on time, you are late. Arrive early to not cause trouble.
Rule 2. Know How to Pay For Your Fair
I never took a subway trip in Korea that took cash. At that time, my friends and I paid with our T-Money cards that were pre-loadable from 7 Eleven. (Yes, 7 Eleven is a global franchise.) You can also do this at GS 25 stores and in subway stations as well. If your phone has NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities, you can also pay with your phone using certain apps as well. (If you can use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay, your phone has an NFC chip built into it. This is the case with almost every smartphone on the market today.) Having your method of payment ready to go will help you in your efforts to obey rule 1. of the subway rules.
Rule 3. Show Respect
In the Republic of Korea, there is this strange notion that you should respect older people and mothers. (Well, it’s strange to some people in Western countries.) In Korea, you should show respect by allowing older ones and ones with children to enter and exit the subway first. If you are sitting and see an older person or a mother standing, give up your seat for them. And by all means, do not push people to get on or off the subway. Things do go faster when people are polite when entering and exiting the subway. This ties in with the next rule on our list.
Rule 4. Know Where to Sit
When on the subway, you may see a small section of seats near the door that are empty. This section is reserved for older people, as well as for women who are pregnant or have small children with them. Unless you want stairs or to be viewed as disrespectful, do not sit in this section. Allow this section to be used by those who will benefit from this rule.
Side Tip: If you sweat a lot, or are tall on a hot day in Korea, you may want to stand near the door while taking the subway. There are sometimes air vents in these areas that can take advantage off to cool you off and help you to stop sweating.
Rule 5. SHUT UP!!!
You often hear about people getting mad at other people on the subway for being loud. Let me tell you, this is true. You will be shushed and told to shut up, in Korean, if you make too much noise. It doesn’t matter if the person telling you this is talking louder than you are, you need to be quiet. Keep in mind that the younger who are talking loud on the subway are usually people trying to sell you something, so they are not always viewed as the most trustworthy people. Peace and quiet is very much appreciated on the subway.
Rule 6. If You Don’t Like These Rules, Too Bad for You. Obey Them Anyway.
If you try to look up these rules anywhere else, you will not find them. Why you ask? Because they are not made up by the South Korean government, or by the conductors of the subways. They are made up by the most powerful force known in Korea, The Ajummas (아줌마 들). These middle aged women, aka Asian Aunties, run the subway. Whatever they say goes and it’s in your best interest to listen to them. Is it fair? No, but neither is life. If you can’t deal with The Ajummas on the subway, you have no chance of surviving life in Korea.
To some, these rules may seem hard. But in reality, they are very easy to follow. The subway is one of the fastest and cheapest ways around Seoul that you can ever find. And train travel can allow one to go from one part of the country to the other and back within a day. Riding the subway is a very safe experience, and there are many apps that will help you find your way. Also, stop announcements are made in Chinese, English and Korean. Riding the subway can be a great way to experience Korean life. But if you do take the subway, always remember to follow the subway rules.