GRABBER: According to eDiplomat, “Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, racially and linguistically. It has its own culture, language, dress and cuisine, separate and distinct from its neighboring countries.” South Korean culture is a maze of customs and etiquette, very different to the Western culture that many of us are familiar with.
WIIFA: If you are invited to a South Korean’s house it is vital that you understand the etiquette of the culture.
PREVIEW: When visiting the house, various etiquettes need to be familiarised. The main ones are meeting etiquette, gift giving etiquette, dining etiquette, and table manners.
- When arriving at the house for the gathering, being aware of meeting etiquette is a sure-fire way to prevent yourself making a bad impression.
- A meeting always starts with a bow. However, some South Koreans follow the bow with a handshake as well.
- According to the Kwintessential website, “The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status, yet it is the most senior person who initiates the handshake.”
- The individual who starts the bow says, "man-na-suh pan-gop-sumnida", which translates as "pleased to meet you."
- When you are introduced to someone, you will have been given information about them prior to the meeting.
- Always wait to be introduced.
- When it is time to leave the social gathering, say a proper good-bye and be sure to bow to each other guest and host separately.
- Gift etiquette is strict in South Korea, and knowing what kind of gift to give and, indeed, not to give is important.
- Gifts convey a lot about the nature of a relationship and are usually countered.
- Give proper consideration to the gift you buy.
- Only give a gift which the receiver is able to financially reciprocate.
- When visiting a South Korean’s home, take gifts of fruit or high quality chocolates.
- Always wrap gifts carefully and present them well.
- Never give gifts in multiples of four as the number four is deemed unlucky.
- Gifts in sevens are deemed lucky.
- Wrap the gifts in red or yellow, but not green, white or black.
- When presenting your gift, be aware of certain customs.
- Always use two hands when presenting the gift to the host.
- Gifts are never opened when they are given.
- The general protocols for arriving and leaving the social gathering are just as important as the more specific elements of the culture.
- It is fine to arrive up to half an hour late for dinner, without offending the host.
- Before entering the house, always take off your shoes.
- The hosts will greet each of the guests separately.
- The host will pour drinks for the guests in front of them. The hostess does not pour or serve drinks.
- When leaving the gathering, the host will walk you to your car or to the gate of the house.
- Always remember to send a thank you letter the day after the dinner.
- Table manners are often an area in which people make the dreaded faux-pas. It is vital to prepare yourself for the time of actual dining.
- Never sit yourself down straight away; always wait to be told where to sit.
- The eldest guests are served first.
- Wait for the most senior person to begin eating before you do.
- As you will be eating with chopsticks at the South Korean’s house, be aware of several rules associated with them.
- Do not point the chopsticks.
- Never prong or pierce your food with them.
- Return the chopsticks to the table after every few mouthfuls.
- Never cross the chopsticks when placing them down.
- There are several rules of etiquette with regards to eating the food at dinner.
- Never pick up food with your fingers.
- Place bones on the table or on a different plate.
- Try a little of every type of food on the table.
- When you are first offered seconds, refuse. You may accept on the second offer.
- Eat everything on your plate; try not to leave anything.
- When you have finished eating, put your chopsticks on the rest or on the table.
If all of these rules of etiquette are followed, there should be little reason to offend anyone at the gathering, either guests or hosts.
South Korea is known for its rigorous customs and protocols. When visiting the house of a South Korean, it is sensible to familiarise yourself with the various rules of etiquette that you are likely to come up against. Nevertheless, the culture is a friendly one and, if you make the effort to fit in with the customs and not to offend, you will most probably be welcomed back.
Asia Rooms. (2011). South Korea Etiquette. Accessed from http://www.asiarooms.com/en/travel-guide/south-korea/culture-of-south-korea/south-korea-etiquette.html
eDiplomat. (2006). South Korea. Accessed from http://www.ediplomat.com/np/cultural_etiquette/ce_kr.htm
Kwintessential. (2011). South Korea - Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette. Accessed from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/south-korea-country-profile.html