Worried that you might offend your host or friendly strangers you meet whilst you’re in Korea? Then you need this essential Guide to Korean Etiquette.
Dinning Korean Etiquette
Keep this in mind when dining out:
Don’t Pour Your Own Drinks
If there are drinks being poured (such as for a toast), then don’t pour one for yourself. someone else will pour it for you – it’s considered rude to pour for yourself. The first time I went for lunch with my supervisor and colleagues, I noticed they took turns to pour drinks for each other. When pouring the drinks, you are expected to use two hands.
The two-hand rule is a way of showing respect to the person you’re serving. Either place your hand on your wrist, or somewhere along your arm.
Look Away When Drinking A Shot
Koreans love to drink soju (the world’s most popular liquor). When people get together, you are expected to drink your shot but not look at the person who poured it for you. I know subordinates do this with their superiors, but I am not very sure it is obtainable amongst peers.
Shoes Are Not Always Allowed Inside
Floors are kinda sacred in Korea. Shoes are not allowed in Korean houses but there are many restaurants in South Korea which have traditional floor tables with no chairs. If you see a restaurant with a shoe rack by the entrance, then you should take your shoes off before you enter.
Don’t Tip in Restaurants
Tipping is a big no-no in South Korea. The price you see on the menu is the price you will pay. In fact, people won’t accept any money you leave behind.
Don’t Lick Your Fingers When Eating
It’s considered dirty to lick your fingers and food should be eaten with chopsticks where possible (not easy with Korean BBQ or ribs!). You will always find wet tissues to clean your hands if you to.
Travelling Around Korean Etiquette
Here are some essential etiquette issues to know about when travelling.
Join the Queue.
In Korea, people wait patiently and queue up when getting on a bus, train or subway. There are lines to show where to wait and spaces to allow people to disembark. If you are visiting Korea, do your best to follow line and wait patiently.
Another thing to note is that there are sections for the elderly, pregnant women, and people on wheelchair. Try to avoid sitting on seats reserved for these sets of people.
Do not eat on transit.
It is illegal to eat or drink on the buses. Eating on the train, especially on long journeys, is usually fine. If you do have to eat, try not to litter, or spill your drinks.
Guide to Socializing Korean Etiquette
This guide will help you interact with people comfortably in Korea.
Shake Hands with Two Hands
This may seem trivial, but the handshake is a sign of respect in South Korea and doing it wrongly could be a sign of disrespect.
When shaking hands, shake with one hand and place the other hand somewhere between your wrist or elbow.
Avoid Using Personal Names Until You know a Person.
Some Koreans will happily tell you their full names and be happy to be called by their personal (first) names. However, if you’re unsure, or you’re in a business situation, it’s best to refer to the other person by their surname.
Respect for Elders
As with many cultures, and older people are respected more than younger ones. The same is obtainable in Korea. Age can dictate the way you act or behave to someone. You will probably be asked your age for people to figure how to relate with you.
Nationalism Is Strong in South Korea
Korea has a high level of nationalism and people take pride in their country and national symbols and holidays. Koreans are proud of their growing economic, cultural, and sporting achievements considering where they are coming from and the battles they have fought.