The Basics of Korean Etiquette
Driven by cutting-edge technologies and trends, Seoul is one of the most fast-paced and high-tech cities in the world. As progressive as Koreans are, many still retain traditional and Confucian values. Korean culture and customs are deeply rooted in family values and respect and obedience toward people regarded as having higher status, rank, or age, including parents, teachers, older siblings, senior co-workers. People who are treated as having “seniority” in return have more responsibilities and obligations to their juniors. In addition to valuing family above anything else, Koreans also place high importance on status and dignity, and every action of an individual is said to reflect back on one’s family, company, and country.
Common Korean Etiquette
While most Koreans will understand that foreigners who commit minor social faux pas do not mean disrespect, following basic Korean etiquette can help you make a better impression and have more positive interactions with locals.
- Take your shoes off at the door when entering any residence, temple, or guesthouse.
- A short bow—essentially a nod—is the most respectful greeting.
- Give and receive any object using both hands.
- Tipping is not a Korean custom and is not expected at hotels, taxis, or other establishments. Refusal to accept a tip is not an act of disrespect.
- Don’t start your meal until the eldest at the table starts first.
- Don’t touch food with your fingers—except when wrapping ssam.
- Don’t leave your chopsticks or spoon sticking up from your bowl of rice.
- Use a spoon to eat rice.
- Place chopsticks and spoon back in their original position at the end of the meal.
Basic Korean Phrases
- Hello. 안녕하세요. an·nyeong·ha·se·yo
- Thank you. 감사합니다. gam·sa·hab·ni·da
- I’m Sorry. 죄송합니다. choé·song·hab·ni·da
- Excuse me. 실례합니다. shil·le·hab·ni·da
- Yes./No. 네./아니요. ne/ a·ni·yo
- How much is it? 얼마예요? ol·ma·ye·yo
- It’s okay. 괜찮아요. gwaen·chan·ah·yo
- I don’t know. 몰라요. mol·la·yo
- I’m lost. 길 잃었어요. gil·yi·russ·o·yo
- My name is _____. 제 이름은 _____입니다. che yi·reun·eun _____im·ni·da