Italy vs. South Korea

Today, B and I were comparing South Korea and Italy, two countries rarely placed in the same sentence. And the comparison isn’t fair, since we spent three months in many cities in Italy, and we have only seen Seoul, and over the course of a week. However, here is what we came up with. Caveat: very subjective.

  1. On Food: South KoreaKorean Food
    • Surprising, I know. But, even in cities like Rome or Milan, Italy tends to do only one cuisine: Italian. In Seoul, they have plenty of well-done Chinese and Japanese food, but also a million US chains, multiple restaurants that serve Italian food (not Olive Garden), a tiny French quarter, and more. In Rome, we saw one Chinese restaurant (with terrible reviews online) and one sushi place. So, the food variety is greater in South Korea.
    • And purely from a personal taste perspective, I find Korean food better for my constitution: more rice and vegetables, with less pastas and breading.
  2. On Tourism: South Korea
    • There don’t seem to be as many ways to profit off tourists here in South Korea. No city tax, no tax for sitting down at a table – versus grabbing a coffee at the counter, no over-inflated prices for tourist attractions. As a tourist, this makes you feel less taken advantage of, even when you understand the economics of price segmentation on this basis.
  3. On Language: ItalyKorean Writing
    • It is much easier to communicate in a language in which you can read everything and recognize root words. In Korean, we can pretty much say ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘excuse me.’ The shopkeepers even look shocked when I say ‘goodbye’ correctly, because there are two versions, depending on whether you’re leaving or the other person is. (They are quite similar, and not too different from ‘hello,’ so not sure why their shock is so intense.)
    • This isn’t to say that Italian is better; in fact, Korean seems to be more consistent and easier to learn for those who start knowing neither character set. However, this isn’t of much help to us, unfortunately.
  4. On Friendliness: Italy
    • Italians were more likely to ask personal questions and to want to know about us or to invite us to share a meal or a coffee. Language certainly plays a role in this, since I can understand questions in Italian – and almost nothing in Korean. But part is also the culture: many Koreans would never dream of asking personal questions, while Italian shopkeepers we met saw no reason to avoid asking things like whether I was married, where my husband worked, and the like.
  5. On Prices: South Korea
    • Eating out in South Korea is significantly cheaper. We routinely spend $5-$9/person, whether we’re eating there or getting takeout – and usually for multiple dishes. Groceries are about the same, as are massages. Public transit is cheaper, as are housing and electronics.
  6. On Public Transit: South Korea
    • Not only is the public transit cheaper (about $1 to get from any city station to any other), it’s also among the best we’ve used. There are 6 major subway lines crisscrossing the city, and we’ve never had to wait more than about 5 minutes for a train. The trains speed along at 90 km/hr between stations, and they are very quiet. And cheap cabs are run as part of the transit system as well!
  7. On Time Zones: Italy
    • For me, being 6-9 hours ahead of home is more convenient than being 14-17 hours ahead of home. I have yet to talk on the phone to anyone in the US from here, though I’m sure my own weird sleep schedule has plenty to do with that.
  8. On Safety: South Korea
    • Though, of course, you never know, South Korea feels safer. Expats living here for years confirm this, saying that they have no fears about going out alone as a woman at night in pretty much any neighborhood. We haven’t heard of pick-pocketing, even, though of course, it might happen.
  9. On Internet: South Korea
    • We’ve had good internet coverage almost everywhere here, and the speeds are much faster than in Italy.
  10. On Censorship: Italy
    • Not a fan of the fact that Korea’s strong internet is censored, blocking not only pr0n, but also any criticism of the government. Yay democracy.

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