Life in Korea
  • General Information
  • Culture & Etiquette
  • Daily Life
  • Korean Language
    • Introduction to Korean
    • Daily Phrases
    • Learning Korean
  • Useful Sites
  • Family Culture
  • Traditional Clothing
  • Food Culture
  • Traditional House
  • Traditional Holidays
  • Art&Sports
  • Etiquette

Since you are in a different country, you can expect to encounter different values, customs, and ways of thinking. Try to understand and adapt to life in Korea and you will find that your experience here will be more pleasant and smooth.

Formality

Koreans place a high value on formality. This is reflected in the different levels of speech used to address people of a different age or rank. Individuals of a higher rank or older age are treated with more reverence than individuals of a lower rank or younger age.

Meeting Koreans

When first meeting a Korean, he or she may ask you questions that you may find to be very personal such as your age, family background, etc. This is not considered to be an invasion of privacy or an act of disrespect. The purpose of these questions is to establish your age and rank in order to determine how to address you with the correct level of formality.

Greetings

  • Ordinary Greetings : Greet close friends or companions by just saying hello and waving one's hand while asking if they are doing well.
  • Nodding : A slight nod can be given to elders in general situations. But, it is not proper for formal situations.
  • Shaking Hands : Shake hands when greeting your collegues, friends or business partners whom you haven't seen for a while. In Korea, you should not extend your hand to shake hands before a senior does.
  • Bowing : Bowing is a greeting with the greatest respect to a senior. Koreans make a low bow usually on traditional holidays and ceremonial occasions.
  • Honorific Expressions : Honorific expressions are usually used to show respect for older people or bosses.

Drinking

Koreans enjoy having some drinks with family or friends. However, minors under 19 cannot purchase alcoholic beverages, and those who sell alcohol to minors will be penalized. The rules on drunk driving are very strict. Koreans tend not to drink in the presence of elders. However, when one is offered drinks by his elder, he holds the glass with two hands while the elder is pouring the drink, and drinks after turning his head aside a little as a way of expressing respect for the elder.

Tipping

Tipping is not required in Korea. However, in most hotels facilities, tip (service charge) is usually included along with your bill.


Smoking

There are a growing number of regulations against smoking with more awareness of its harmful effects. Traditionally, Korea has more strict rules on smoking than drinking. It is considered rude to smoke in the presence of elders. Cigarette sales to minors are prohibited. Smoking is not allowed in almost all public places and buildings such as public institutions, theaters, libraries, and public transportation. There are areas designated for smoking in public places.

Table Manners

Koreans have placed importance on table manners and observe their traditional table manners strictly. Here are some examples of Korean table manners.

  • Dress properly and have good posture when you eat.
  • Do not lift a spoon or chopsticks until your elders do so.
  • When eating food, try not to show the food in your mouth, and try to chew the food quietly and slowly. Be careful not to make noises when eating and drinking.
  • Try to keep pace with elders. It could be considered rude to show that you have finished your meal before the elders have. If at all possible, keep eating a bit until the elders have finished their meal.
  • Do not hold the spoon and chopsticks together, or lift the rice bowl from the table. Use the spoon only for rice and soup. 
  • Take food within reach and do not stretch your arms out too far.
  • When coughing or sneezing during a meal, turn your head to one side and cover your mouth with a handkerchief as to not bother your neighbors. Nose blowing should be saved for the restroom.
  • After a meal, return your spoon and chopsticks to the spot where they were placed.
  • Younger ones cannot leave the table until their elders do.