Culture Shock! Korea, By Sonja Vegdahl Hur And Ben Seunghwa Hur

Culture Shock! Korea is part of a series of guides aimed at helping expatriates during their tenures abroad. It has a somewhat dated feel, having last been revised in 1993. And only one throwaway line hints at the possibility that Korea has changed since the nation hosted the Olympics in 1988, the year of the book's original publication.

Additionally, the book is targeted at well-heeled expatriate businessmen (with hardly any advice specifically tailored for female expats). It includes, for instance, suggestions on how to deal with one's maid and how to navigate Korean corporate hierarchies. Oddly, since the book was written by United States residents and published by an American firm, the book favors (or rather, favours) British spellings and words.

Still, for those of us with minimal familiarity with the Korean culture, the book provides a decent foundation. It offers detailed discussions of the traditional gender roles (though, again, one wonders how much has changed in the last twenty years), helpful explanations of Korean holidays and celebrations, and rather enthusiastic descriptions of the culture's cuisine.

The book is most useful as a primer on the cultural differences that might easily ensnare an unsuspecting traveler. For example, the reader learns that it is common on crowded public buses for seated strangers to offer to hold the packages of those who are standing. The authors also supply some interesting cultural commentary, like the observation that the habit of exchanging business cards upon meeting people is especially useful in a society where strangers bow upon being introduced, while speaking their names so quietly that they can rarely be heard.