ESL South Korea

Korean Etiquette

I’ve seen Koreans have an endless amount of patience with foreigners who don’t realise their being offensive, or simply choose not to bother with cultural etiquette.  It’s not always enough to simply try and be respectful, when you’re living in a country other than the one in which you grew up, you actually have to LEARN how to show respect.  And it’s really easy.

Here’s a list of easy to remember stuff that you can try with Koreans, many of these will easily enough become second nature after you’ve done them for a while.

Bow – This is rather obvious and is common throughout East Asia.  When meeting someone for the first time Koreans always bow their heads and bodies slightly.  When meeting foreigners, Koreans often combine the bow with a handshake to incorporate both cultural elements.  Bowing is especially necessary when meeting someone older than you or when meeting an employer of co-worker.  Bowing is not only used when meeting someone for the first time, but also daily when greeting older people.  The more casual your relationship with someone becomes, the less the need for bowing becomes and casual greetings become the norm.

Passing something with your right hand – When you go do shopping you’ll soon realize that items and money are always passed with the right hand, with the left hand usually holding on to the right.  Takes a little getting used to, but displays affectionate politeness when done correctly.

Receiving an object with both hands – This is only necessary when receiving something for an older person, and is especially true when alcohol is being poured, in which case you should hold your glass with both hands.  In any other circumstance, when an older person passes you something receive it with both hands, it’s simply the polite thing to do.

Dining manners – There are a couple of things at the table that takes getting used to.  Don’t pick up your chopsticks or start eating before and older person does.  Never stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice and leave it standing in an upright position.

Dress Etiquette – Koreans almost always dress stylishly and neatly.  Men usually dress professionally and it’s not a strange sight to see male teachers fully suited with a tie.  Lots of leeway is of course given to foreigners in Korea since our fashion sense is so different from theirs.  Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep your appearance neat and tidy at all times.

Expressing affection – Romantic public affection is frowned upon and should be avoided.  Kissing in public is generally taboo.  However friends will often show more affection to each other than might be considered normal in most Western countries.  You’ll often find friends holding hands (usually girls or young women) in public.

Being conscious to age – Be now, you’ve probably realized that Koreans make quite a fuss about the whole age thing.  The higher your age, the higher your general status and the amount of respect that should be shown to you.  This is deeply rooted in the Confucian principal of respecting elders.  So whenever you’re meeting and dealing with older people, take special consideration to be more polite and respectful than normal.