Traveling to a foreign country exposes you to various customs and traditions, and Korea is no exception. Similar to many Asian cultures, Korea has specific etiquette rules that must be observed on certain occasions and are enforced by society. In this regard, we will delve into the top 10 Korean etiquette rules in detail.
1. Take off your shoes
Taking off shoes before entering a Korean home or certain traditional restaurants with wooden floors is a standard of Korean etiquette that is widely followed. This is because it is considered unhygienic to wear shoes inside after walking on the street, and also because Koreans often sit, sleep, and spend time on the floor. Therefore, it is important to be aware of this cultural norm and to remove your shoes before entering such spaces.
2. Bow down
Similar to Japanese culture, bowing is a common way for Koreans to show respect, particularly to people they don’t know well or to their colleagues. It’s not unusual to witness students bowing to their seniors, and ajummas (middle-aged women) bowing to greet customers in restaurants.
There are different types of bows in Korea, ranging from a simple tilt of the head to more formal bows where the degree of inclination varies depending on the person being addressed. These bows may require precise angles, such as 15°, 30°, or 45°.
3. Drinking with people in his company
You may have observed this in Korean dramas, but the drinking culture in Korea holds significant importance. Drinking with colleagues and superiors is a way to show respect and build unity, and it also serves as a means to release work-related stress.
There are several drinking etiquette rules in Korea, such as not pouring your own drink, serving with both hands, turning slightly to the right when drinking in front of someone older, and never refusing a drink (unless you have an allergy or don’t drink, which should be communicated beforehand).
A useful tip to avoid drinking too much is to not finish your glass completely since it is customary for glasses to be refilled once they’re empty.
4. Thanking before and after meals
Similar to Japan, there is a customary way to express gratitude before and after meals in Korea. Before eating, people bring their hands together and say jal meokkesseumnida ( 잘 먹겠습니다 ) which translates to “I will eat well” or “let’s eat” similar to the French phrase “bon appétit.” Similarly, after finishing the meal, the phrase jal meogeosseumnida ( 잘 먹었습니다 ) is used to express gratitude and show satisfaction with the meal.
5. Share your meal
Sharing meals is a traditional practice in Korean culture, and it’s common for people to share many small side dishes served alongside the main meal. Whether you’re dining at a Korean restaurant or someone’s home, expect to share dishes with your companions. It’s also customary to order dishes that can be shared when dining with a Korean friend or companion. For instance, when ordering a pizza, it’s best to keep in mind that it’s intended for sharing, and not meant to be consumed alone.
6. Not tipping
In Korea, tipping is not a common practice and it is even considered impolite and disrespectful. This is because Koreans believe that good customer service is a basic duty and not something that deserves a reward. Therefore, it is not necessary to tip in restaurants, hotels, or any other service-oriented businesses. In fact, attempting to tip may even cause confusion or offense to the staff.
7. Receive and give with two hands
In Korean culture, exchanging business cards is a significant aspect of networking and establishing a person’s identity. It is crucial to follow proper etiquette while exchanging business cards formally, such as presenting and receiving the card with both hands. Offering a business card with one hand is considered impolite, so one should be cautious. This principle also applies to giving gifts, money, or credit cards. However, in situations where both hands are occupied, one hand is acceptable for such transactions.
8. Do not sit in reserved seats in the metro
Sitting in the reserved seats on the metro is considered a serious breach of etiquette in Korea. These seats are designated for specific groups such as the elderly, disabled, or pregnant women and are easily identifiable by their distinctive color. Each train typically has between 9 and 12 reserved seats, and as a foreigner, it is possible to make a mistake and sit in one of these seats unintentionally. However, it is important to be aware that doing so can result in reprimands from other passengers who consider it disrespectful.
9. Respect the elderly
It is important to respect the elderly in Korean culture, which is demonstrated by giving them space on public transportation and addressing them with specific terms based on their age. This is a practice that should be observed globally. At the dining table, it is customary to wait for the older person to start eating before beginning, and if you are unsure of someone’s age, it’s best to wait and follow their lead. This way, you can avoid giving the wrong impression and show respect to those older than you.
10. Write your name in red
As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to feel surprised, but I hope that these rules of etiquette will be helpful for those who are planning to visit or interact with Koreans. It is always important to be respectful of other cultures and their customs, and these rules can help you avoid unintentionally offending someone.
In conclusion, South Korea has a rich culture and a strong emphasis on manners and etiquette. Understanding and following the rules of etiquette is important when visiting or living in Korea. Some of the most important rules include showing respect for elders and those in positions of authority, avoiding writing in red, and properly exchanging business cards. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the drinking culture and the importance of sharing meals with others. By following these rules, visitors and expats can show respect for Korean culture and make a positive impression on those they meet.