Introduction to Basic Etiquette in Korea. Brownie Points From Korea Now Included.
Basic Etiquette in Korea, Why Do You Care? Are you visiting Korea? Do you have a job in Korea? Have you been hired to work in Korea? Do you want to date in Korea? Do you want to be adopted by Black Pink or SNSD? If you are thinking yes, then this post is for you.
To help you save “face,” we’ve written this post so you can socialize with Koreans in Korea and even be considered a mild mannered, polite “good” person in the eyes of the older people in Korea.
Our post will help you will earn those coveted etiquette brownie points. Your life just got a lot easier if you visit Korea. If you don’t want to receive etiquette brownie points, then don’t read this post. However, the points are non-fattening and probably will help you lose weight because of numerous socializing you will get to do.
One more thing. Many people have compared the Korean etiquette to their own countries culture, so there is no excuse! You can’t say this is an Asian thing, like saving face. Etiquette protocol is prevalent everywhere.
Let’s get this post rolling along.
How Do People Greet Each Other In South Korea?
I always bow to an elder, someone older than me. You bend at a 45-degree angle. You won’t be wrong by bending at a 45-degree angle to someone older than you. I’ve reached legendary status level 99 due to my politeness. You can’t go wrong with a bow.
Greeting someone younger, the younger person bows or says hello first. Nowadays, I extend my hand for a handshake or wave to say hi. I support my right wrist with my left hand when shaking hands with someone older.
Nowadays, you will see the local Korean’s greet each other with hugs, hand holding, handshaking, and even pats on the head. With friends, the younger will always bow to the older person. As a stranger, the younger will always bow to the older person.
Basic Etiquette In Korea You Need To Be Aware Of.
If a Korean person bumps into you on the street or inside a building, don’t be offended. This happens a lot in Korea. It’s not rude behavior or disrespect in Korea, it is a minor daily incident. Respect is shown in different ways, and this post points it out. Read this post, and you will be a professional, polite person, someone that will make many friends in Korea. Maybe.
Always respect someone older than you. You should bow in the beginning and speak in a normal pleasant voice.
Always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home in Korea. Especially during rainy days. The person probably cleaned the house before you arrived and prepared something for you to eat. Dirtying their house with your shoes shows that you have no manners.
Always remove your hat indoors. Not sure why that is necessary, but I’ve been told that.
Always receive gifts, foods, objects with both hands extended out.
Eating while walking was considered inappropriate, but nowadays, you will observe younger generation doing that. Should you do it? If you are not a Korean citizen by birth, who cares? You can get away with that. Everyone knows you are a foreigner in Korea.
Don’t eat with your hands, eat with a spoon, fork, or chopsticks. However, fried chicken or pizza is ok to eat with your hands. I’ve eaten them with chopsticks to show how Korean-American I am. My mother didn’t think so, and I got a handful of “Slap-Fu.”
Don’t blow your nose in front of someone at the food table. Who wants to visualize nose fluids being sprayed over the foods on the table? Can you say Tuberculosis, anyone?
The eldest person should be served the food or drink first. Everyone usually waits for the eldest person or the highest status individual to start eating before they eat. Just don’t bow 45 degrees at the table. It will look weird unless you like being strange.
South Korea has a reputation for excessive alcohol drinking. Alcohol consumption is part of everyday life in Korea. Did you know that soju is a drink consumed more than water in Korea? The amount of soju consumed in Korea is mind-boggling. It is drunk at social gatherings, weddings, get togethers, and more. As such, here are some excellent etiquettes to be aware of when drinking a shot of soju.
If you can drink more than anyone else at the table, you gain instant alcoholic drinking celebrity status. It’s not a K-POP celebrity status, but just as important, in a minor way. The men in Korea have a drinking game to determine who can drink the most. If you have a high tolerance for alcohol and win at these games, you will get tremendous respect. Don’t expect them to bow to you. You might get the thumb between the index and middle finger salute and they won’t remember doing that to you the next morning.
Avoid emptying your glass, because usually, that means you want more. If you don’t wish to drink alcohol, leave some soju in the glass, that will indicate you’ve had enough. Or it might mean you lost the drinking game. Back to ordinary human status.
Fill other people’s glass before your own, starting with the eldest, most senior, or the one with the highest status. Just don’t point at that person to indicate you want to fill their glass.
Do not fill your drink; wait for someone else to load your glass. If there is no one else that is sober, then fill your glass. You won’t lose face here, just your consciousness from all the drinking.
If you don’t want to drink soju, don’t give moral reasons. Instead provide a genuine reason like a medical, religious, or other reasonable grounds. I usually state that I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so that’s why I don’t drink. Pass the Coca Cola, please!
Communication Etiquette in Korea
Maintain eye contact during a discussion or friendly conversation. Don’t stare at them at like you are there for “Mortal Kombat.”
Korean’s usually avoid eye contact with their superiors at work.
If you are legitimately being scolded or rebuked by someone older or of higher status than you, avoid direct eye contact. If you don’t then it is considered that you don’t care what your actions do to others.
Receiving With Your Hands
Always use two hands to receive a gift, money from someone.
Gestures to Someone
Don’t stick up your middle finger; they know what that means. Don’t put your thumb between your index and middle finger that is the same as the middle finger.
Beckoning Someone. Don’t point your finger at someone and gesture them to come to you. Don’t have your palms facing upwards and gesturing with your hands. That is considered rude, something done to animals. Instead, with the palm facing the ground, start with your fingers straight and move your fingers as one unit and point to the ground. Do this several times.’
• Do be aware of your social standing in Korea and act accordingly. This just means to act polite and have good manners. Would you want a stranger pointing at your mother while talking to her? Korean’s observe social standing studiously, usually that is the first thing they establish. Ever wonder why they ask about your age? It isn’t because they want to introduce you to their daughter. For me, it was their niece.
• Do give them your first name if asked. If you are not Korean, then they probably will not ask you about your family name, your last name. They can see that you are not Korean. The importance of last names is mainly for Koreans speaking to Koreans.
• Do tell them what you do in your job. They may or will ask about your job, what you do. Don’t try to make it self-important as everyone does in the West. They can see a fluffed up job title from a mile away.
• Do give the eldest person the respect they are due, no matter what their social standing is. Never point at them, don’t talk to them informally, and never raise your voice at them. Unless they committed an atrocity, you will always lose. I’ve never met an elderly person in Korea that has done a crime.
• During a conversation, try to compliment on what you liked about Korea. If you must criticize, add another experience that made you think positive about the topic you are criticizing.
• Don’t compare or contrast the Korean culture and language to Japan. That’s bad. Seriously. Don’t Do It. Korea has its own unique culture and style that is different from Japan. Korea’s language is a unique innovation that Korean’s are very proud of.
• Don’t exhibit your anger or distress with outbursts of emotion and temper, especially at someone older than you. And never point your fingers at someone as a result of your anger, especially someone older than you.
• Do not ever, ever point your finger at an older person in Korea. Not even someone your age or younger. That will alienate you as someone being rude. Korean dramas show a young man pointing his finger at a girl that is the same age or younger, but that is the movies.
If you believe that the Korean population has the mindset of children, then you might want to rethink that before interacting with Koreans.
Before the development of Korea, many had thought that the average Korean was simple. In a way, they were not wise in the ways of the world.
That was the reason why Korea was once called the “Hermit Kingdom.” That is not the case today.
Nowadays, many Koreans travel to other countries and experience different cultures. Korean conglomerate businesses have branched outside of Korea to the rest of the world.
The way Korea has developed into a first world country is impressive. Many of the technologies and innovations researched, developed, and produced are from Korea.
Korea has been a leader in the medical, genetic, and electronic technology fields. I don’t think I have to give an example but here is one, curved flexible LED screens.
Now that you’ve have a basic understanding of the etiquette of Korea, your vacation or job probably just got a lot better. No need to thank me, but if you decide to give me a gift, I will accept it with both hands. LOL.
See you at the next post or maybe in Korea. If you see me in Korea, say hi and buy me lunch! I will gladly accept it with a bow. OK, that’s the end of me shamelessly promoting to get free stuff from you.
Now come to Korea and make some friends!
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DISCLAIMER: The paragraphs above is my attempt at Korean English humor. I am a Korean-American, so I believe it is ok. If you don’t like it, then don’t read the paragraphs above. Too late, you already done it.