Culture

The following information is advice on what you should and should not do while conversing with nationals in Korea.  It is intended to cover the common social situations that you may find yourself in.  This list is not exhaustive but nonetheless covers important points.

Introductions

  • Do make sure you bow towards someone when greeting them. This is usually done by keeping both legs straight and together while bending down from the waist with the head down.
  • Don’t introduce yourself at social gatherings; wait for your guest to introduce you to others.
  • Do make sure to shake hands afterwards, as it is generally expected of westerners.
  • Don’t bring up controversial and sensitive topics in conversation.  This includes politics, communism, and the Korean War.
  • Do keep hand gestures to a minimum when speaking.

Dining

  • Do make sure you remove your shoes before entering a home and in some restaurants.
  • Don’t pour your own drink. It is expected that the host or other guests will pour and refill others’ drinks.
  • Do make sure that the eldest person at the table eats before you do.
  • Don’t eat or pass food with your hands.
  • Do make sure you place your chopsticks on your resting block and keep them uncrossed when you are finished your meal.
  • Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking out of your rice bowl.

Public Behaviour

  • Do make sure you are not loud or boisterous in public.
  • Don’t make excessive physical contact. This includes back slaps, shoulder touches and hugs.
  • Do ensure that you are quiet when on public transportation. Talking on a cell phone or listening to loud music is not appreciated.
  • Don’t blow your nose around others. Make sure you excuse yourself to do it privately.
  • Do cover up any exposed tattoos you have, especially while at work.

Don’t stress over the details.  We’ve seen all of these cultural fauxpas violated, and to good effect.  A guide on cultural practices in the United States might tell you that is is necessary to begin a multiple course meal with the outer utensil and to work your weigh in.  Fork should co on the right, while the know should go on the left.  Sure, but who cares.  The times are chancing and, especially among frineds, the old customs don’t apply.

However, if is still useful to be away of the traditions and, should you find yourself at a meal with your boss or other older and more powerful people, it wouldn’t hurt to follow the rules as much as possible.

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