People and Culture:
How to Show Respect in South Korea
Korea is a place where modern technology and history walk hand in hand. Confucianism has existed throughout Korean society for hundreds of years. Whether it’s school, the workplace, or at home, it’s hard to ignore its influence.
If you’re getting ready to move to Korea or visiting for vacation, here are some tips and information that can help you adapt and make a positive impression on the locals:
The most common time this will come up is when paying at a store or restaurant. Whether you’re handing over your card or cash, you should do so with both hands. The same comes when receiving your change/card back or whenever you’re given items. It’s considered a sign of respect in Korea and can go a long way in making a positive impression.
When students and teachers arrive at school, they typically switch out their shoes for indoor slippers. At restaurants where you sit on the floor, you’ll also be asked to take off your shoes and it’s not uncommon to see dozens of shoes placed neatly near the entrance. It’s also typical to remove your shoes when visiting someone’s house or apartment.
Luckily many of these places have heated floors (ondol) so that you won’t be cold while sitting on the ground. Taking off your shoes helps keep the floor clean and ensures that you’re not tracking in germs, dirt, and anything else that your shoes pick up while walking around.
People and Culture: How to Show Respect in South Korea – Bowing
Typically when greeting someone older than you, you’ll bow when greeting them. When you’re meeting your boss, principal, headteacher, etc the bow will be bigger than if you’re meeting a friend or coworker. Another tip is that you should avoid making eye contact and keep your arms at your side.
Around holidays such as Seollal, younger Koreans will perform a more deep bow to their elders. Children will typically get a gift from their elders in the form of a blessing or money afterward and it is a tradition during the Lunar New Year’s celebration.
How old are you? It’s one of the most common questions that a Korean person might ask you. Age plays a huge factor in how people address you in Korea. On public transportation, there will be specially designated seats for the elderly., You’ll also see younger Koreans give up their seats for older Koreans if there are none left.
Even what Koreans call their siblings are affected by age. Older brothers are hyung or oppa depending on your gender, while older sisters are noona or unni. Younger siblings are dong-seng with nam (boy) or yeo (girls) added to the front.
This only scratches the surface of Korean culture, but we hope that it makes you more interested in what Korea has to offer. What types of customs do you have in your culture or are there Korean customs that you’re familiar with?
Let us know in the comments below and share this post if you found it interesting. Check out some of our other posts and explore Korea with us.