Traveling to another country for the first time can be both exciting and scary, especially if you plan to make public transportation your main avenue for getting places. Using the subway system in South Korea is a breath of fresh air from our own MRT and LRT systems. But you’ll need to know the culture involved in subway travel in South Korea to ensure you don’t irritate the locals. Here is an etiquette guide for first time travelers.
1. Be Mindful of others when walking
Rule no. 1 is the most important rule. When you’re in a crowded public space like the Korean subway, you need to remember to always be courteous and be mindful of others. When it comes to walking with traffic, all your movements will affect others around you and behind you, so always remember to:
Walk at the same pace as the crowd
Avoid making sudden changes in direction or wild movements
Stand on the sides and not in the middle of a walking area
When you think about it, the rules on the road are generally the rules you follow while on foot. Observe the same courtesy a proper driver would on the road and you will keep everyone else’s day (and yours) hassle-free.
2. Stand on the Right, Walk on the left
Sadly this isn’t a general rule that is being followed here in the Philippines. In Korea, they observe this courtesy not just in the subway, but wherever there are people. On the Escalators, always stand on the right and leave the left lane open. When walking in hallways or climbing stairs, slow walkers are to stay on their right, to make way on the left for those in a hurry (or longer legs).
3. Let Passengers Out First
When a train comes to a stop and the sliding doors open, make sure to let passengers out of the train before you enter. This practice is done to make sure that people going out don’t get trapped inside during rush hour.
4. Special Seats for Elderly/Pregnant/PWD
At the end of every subway car, next to the door there are specially colored seats that are reserved for the Elderly, Pregnant women, Women with children, or Persons with disabilities. Some people think that it’s okay to use those seats just as long as you get up when there is a person that needs the seat, but the prevailing culture is just to always leave those seats empty. So never seat in those seats if you don’t qualify.
5. Shh! Silent Mode for you and your Phone
When you’re on the subway, the general rule is to keep quiet and keep the peace. Remember to keep your phone on silent mode. Always use your inside voice when talking to someone or talking on the phone. Use earphone if you want to watch a video or play a mobile game (but don’t forget to pay attention to your surroundings. You might miss your stop).
6. Keep Your Backpack Out of Others’ Way
As a tourist, you’re most likely the kind of passenger that travels with a bag; especially you backpacker types. When on the subway, as much as possible, try to wear your backpack on your front to avoid invading others’ spaces or accidentally bumping others when you turn. Commuters will be very thankful to you for showing this courtesy.
7. No Smelly Food
We know that Korean street food can be very addicting; so much so that you might want to bring and eat it everywhere you go, but the Subway in South Korea is not the place for it. Surprisingly enough, there is no law preventing you from bringing and eating food on the subway, so eating on the train is perfectly legal. However, it isn’t common practice and commuters will likely snarl at you if you eat on the train. (BONUS TIP) Prepare to be Shoved! In South Korea, it is common to get lightly shoved, especially by older ladies. In Korean culture, they have right of way NO MATTER WHAT, so it is best to just let it slide. Korean locals are probably just as annoyed as you but if you retaliate, you’re likely to be viewed negatively.
So, remember to keep your cool.