Korean Society and Culture
Traditional Korean Society
Although South Korea is modernizing extremely fast, it still holds on to many traditional values and the old way of life. Where there are not highly populated cities, there are rural area’s which are still relatively poor, and still follow traditional ways of life. In cities, millions of people live in apartments, but in the rural area’s you will find traditional housing. Also, even though the cities are headed toward very modern times, people still hold onto some traditional values. One thing that guarantee’s this is the language. The language has traditional values of social status and respect built directly into it. Words change depending on who you are speaking with. This will keep traditional values always present.
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. Hard work, filial piety and modesty are characteristics esteemed by Koreans. They are proud of their traditional culture and their modern economic success. Education is highly valued as the path to status, money and success
Etiquette and Customs
- A bow is the traditional South Korean greeting, although a handshake can accompany a bow among men. The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status.
- Say “man-na-suh pan-gop-sumnida” when initiating a bow. It means pleased to meet you.
- Korean women will not shake hands with Western men. Western women may offer their hands to Korean men.
- Bid farewell to everyone by bowing when leaving a social event.
- Don’t use Koreans’ given names. Use their professional title unless specified to do otherwise.
- Korean names are the opposite of Western names with the family name first, followed by the two-part given name. Use the family name when addressing a Korean.
- Avoid touching, patting or back slapping.
- Keep your feet on the floor at all times and do not cross your legs.
- Never point your index finger.
- Always pass and receive objects with your right hand or with two hands.
- Wrap gifts nicely. Use red, yellow or pink paper for wrapping.
- Give gifts using both hands.
- Give liquor, fruit, desk accessories, small mementos, gifts from France or Italy.
- Don’t give someone an expensive gift if you think they will not be able to reciprocate. In South Korea, gifts are almost always reciprocated.
- Don’t wrap gifts in green, white or black.
- Don’t give gifts in multiples of four.
- Don’t sign a card in red ink.
- Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.
- Don’t sit until told where to sit.
- The eldest are served first and begin eating first.
- Don’t pour your own drink, but instead offer to pour for others. It is common to fill each others cup. Leave some drink in your glass if you would not like another refill.
- Don’t eat with your hands.
- Don’t point with your chop sticks, pierce food with your chop sticks or cross your chopsticks when placing them on the chop stick rest.
- Try to eat a little bit of everything.
- Pass food and drink with your right hand while using your left to support your forearm.
- Refuse the first offer of second helpings. This is considered polite.
- Try to eat everything served to you.
- Don’t ever place your chopstick’s parallel across the bowl. To indicate that you are finished eating place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest.
- Don’t criticize Korean cuisine because they are very proud of their food.