Shoes await their owners at a small restaurant (May 2000).
(Please read this before you copy our photos or text.)

One of the first things you'll learn about Korea -- literally as soon as you set foot in a building -- is that a raised floor means "take off your shoes." You leave them by the door. Yes, it's a bit of a pain to tie and untie them all the time. Just do what Koreans do, and leave them tied loosely. (The backs of their shoes are usually the first parts to go, from jamming their feet into the shoes.)

You slip around in your stocking feet unless you find slippers waiting for you. When it's time to visit the loo, kick off your house slippers (if any) and put on the waterproof ones you find next to the bathroom door. You'll want them. Not that Korean men have any worse aim than any others anywhere else, but rather because of the showers. Korean bathrooms usually have no shower stalls or shower curtains. When you take a shower, the water goes everywhere. They have ingenious covered holders to keep the TP dry, but the floors tend to be a bit damp, if not puddled, most of the time.

Each time we go back to Korea, we see more and more Korean chain restaurants and fewer family-run places. The chains almost always have Western seating (regular height tables and chairs) where you keep your shoes on. Many of them don't have any traditional seating at all. But wander a little off the beaten path and you'll still find traditional restaurants like the one you see above (this was in a little back alley near Margaret's apartment). Most of them are like this one - no-shoes, sit-on-the-floor operations with short-legged tables where you're likely to be the only non-Korean in the place. They're worth searching for. In our experience you usually get the best meals and the cheapest prices at these traditional, family-run places. The service is usually top shelf, partly because they're not sure you know what you're doing. ;-)

Often they'll have shelves or lockers near the door. That's where you stash your shoes (though, as you can see, some of the patrons above haven't bothered but have just left them on the floor). At least at peak hours, there'll usually be plenty of shoes to serve as an example of what to do with them. In any case, don't wear your shoes onto the raised floor, or you'll get dirty looks, which you'll richly deserve.

The host will give you a cushion to sit on. Cross your legs, lotus style. It seems to be OK for women to sit on their legs. I know, this isn't too comfortable at first. Don't worry, you'll have at least a year to get used to it.

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