7 Big Differences in Korean Grocery Stores

Courtney Swanson is a student at Indiana State University and a current ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

You’ve just arrived and what is the first thing to do? Buy toiletries and essentials of course! Here are some differences between Korean grocery stores and American grocery stores, and tips to navigate them.

  1. When getting a shopping cart, they will be chained together. The only way to take one of these carts is by putting a 100 won coin into the handle. No worries–once the cart is returned, so is the coin.
  2. Service is a very big thing in Korea. Service means that, to promote a certain product over another, the company throws in something extra for free. It’s not uncommon to walk around the store and see a box of tea taped to a mug or have a woman bring you over to give you items for free. Not all of the service makes it worth it, so pay attention to quantity and price, and then focus on the service deals.
  3. Speaking of women grabbing you and selling things, something guaranteed to be seen in a Korean grocery store is women in the various sections trying to sell specific wares or just help customers find what they are looking for. Even if you don’t speak Korean, it won’t stop them from selling you what they have. It can be hard to get away, so don’t be afraid to say no if you are genuinely not interested in their product.
  4. If looking for something specific, you may find yourself completely lost. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the many ladies, however, expect the possibility that if you ask in English, many women will ignore your request and keep selling. This doesn’t mean give up. Eventually, someone will understand and help. You can also look up how to say what you’re looking for in Korean.
  5. If you are extremely attached to certain brands, it may be a disappointment to find that many of the brands stocking Korean shelves are, in fact, Korean. So, if no other brand will do, be safe and bring enough for the duration of your stay. However, if you’re willing to try new stuff, you may find some great smelling body wash or a new fantastic brand of tea.
  6. BYOB, better known as Bring Your Own Bags. In Korea you have to bring your own bag or else you’re carrying everything home in your arms. Buying plastic bags is an option, as is buying a reusable bag, and a very popular method for large amounts of groceries is the free cardboard boxes you can use to carry purchases home.
  7. The most important thing about shopping in Korean grocery stores: everything you bought must come back with you. This means a possibly lengthy travel on the subway among crowds of people, walking back to your home, most likely uphill at some point. So plan on several trips or bring friends.

The world awaits…discover it.

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