We all have heard the saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. This is true for any country that holds a lot of pride in its ancient culture and traditions. South Korean Culture is a classic example of one such country.
It is among the oldest cultures that has almost still preserved its original form and has been passed down through generations in different ways. The culture of South Korea embodies great respect for traditions and hierarchy. The behavior of people depends on their age, wealth, and status and ancient cultures are still in practice in current times.
If you are in South Korea and want to enjoy the most of your Korean travel experience, it is advisable to go prepared with a few practices that is considered basic in South Korea.
Greetings in South Korea
Hierarchy is considered very important in South Korean culture, that is why unlike other countries that use one word for all, “hello”, is not applicable here or you cannot simply address a person as dude, man, etc. as in the west. Greetings depend on the age and status of a person. When you are addressing someone of a lower status or is younger than you, “Annyeong” will work fine along with a slight bow. If you are greeting anyone of your age or status, “Annyeonghaseyo” will be the right way along with a slight bow and lowering of eyes. In the third scenario if the person you are greeting is elder or of higher status than you, then, “Annyeong hashimnikka” is the proper and formal way along with a slightly deeper bow with folded hands on lower belly and eyes at the wrist.
Another important thing is the placement of hands while bowing, right hand over left for women, and left hand over right for men. Now that you are aware of these critical greeting patterns let’s move towards the next step.
Dining in South Korea
When you first arrive at the table, keep the most honored guest, usually the eldest, in mind. Remain standing until they’ve been seated furthest from the door. Then, take your seat on a comfortable floor cushion, tucked underneath a low-set table. For the untrained westerner, this unsupported eating position on the floor can get pretty painful after an hour or two. So adjust your positioning as much as you want, but be cautious not to kick your neighbor 🙂
Paying the bill in South Korea
Another tradition that every young person will love,is that the eldest person on the table pays for the meal. There is an exception to this – if you are the host then you will have to pay. The only thing you need to ensure for a free meal is that you are not the eldest in the group ! Hence Korea can be the best place for enjoying free meals. It also rids you of the tension of who will pay for the meal and as a result, you enjoy the meal stress free. By any chance, if you find yourself on the hot seat and are paying the bill then be sure to give and receive money with both hands as it is a common tradition that is practiced in every monetary transaction.
Public Transportation in South Korea
Another act of South Korean culture that you will be bewildered by is the quietness maintained by Korean people on public transport. If by any chance you find any chatter, it will normally be insensitive teenagers or people talking in hushed tones. So, make sure that you remain silent. Otherwise, you will be directed to keep quiet by an elderly like your parents, and it’s normal.
Unlike other countries designated seats are very seriously in South Korea. So, make sure that you don’t sit on a pregnant women’s chair if you are a gentleman. The seats for pregnant, disabled, or elderly people remain free even when no eligible person for that designated seat is present. The other practice in public transport that the western people will find unusual, is that people giving up their seats for an elderly person or a person who needs it more than them. It is almost mandatory to do so.
Taking your Shoes Off on Entrance
Unlike other countries where you can even get on your bed with shoes on, in South Korea it is compulsory to take your shoes off before entering a place whether it is a home, bathroom, school, or a restaurant. This tradition may prove to be an obstacle in your fashion statement. But in reality, it is done to maintain cleanliness instead of ruining your style. In Korean culture, people sit, eat, and sleep on the floor that is why they ensure that the place where they spend most of their time is not dirty. There are however, indoor sandals available in the house which you can put on after entering the house.
In South Korean culture the concept of tipping is absent but still, they manage an up to mark restaurant service. In Korea there is also a bell on each table which you can ring to summon the waitress who will come each time with a smile when you ring it and take your order, to bring your bill or refill your drink. These are available on each table so the customers won’t have to call or wave for the waiter. After you are finished you don’t have to leave a tip as you do in your own country. Necause it’s just not practiced here and even considered as an insult sometimes. In Korea, strippers are the only workers who customarily receive tips.
Taboos in South Korea
There are somethings considered as taboos during business meetings and should be avoided by foreigners. These topics include politics, personal family matters, and same-sex marriages. Another thing that should be kept in mind is language. No doubt English is gaining popularity as a business language in South Korea. But still hiring an interpreter is a better option and ensures the safety of your business. Also, many people in South Korea don’t speak English. Another sensitive topic that should be avoided and not debated on is the sea between Japan and Kore. Also the disputed islets between Japan and South Korea.
Carry the above tips during your trip to South Korea. And so for long, “joh-eun sugbag doeseyo” ( have a nice stay in Korean)!