Do's and Don'ts in South Korea

South Korean Etiquette Tips

Flying to Seoul? South Koreans are very proud of their heritage; make your visit more enjoyable by reading up on their etiquette.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO dress modestly and conservatively for business occasions. Men should wear dark suits with white shirts and women should wear subdued colors as well.
  2. DON'T wear jewelry if you're a man, aside from a wedding ring or watch.

2. Table Manners

  1. DON'T sit until told where to sit.
  2. DO note that the eldest are served first, and they also begin eating first.
  3. DON'T use your chopsticks to point at something and never pierce food with your chopsticks.
  4. DON'T cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest.
  5. DON'T eat with your hands.
  6. DO try a little bit of everything. If you don't know what something is, ask!
  7. DO refuse the first offer of second helpings, out of politeness.
  8. DO eat everything served to you.
  9. DON'T ever place your chopsticks parallel across the bowl. You can indicate that you're done eating by putting the chopsticks on the table next to your plate or bowl.
  10. DON'T criticize Korean cuisine. South Koreans are very proud of their food and will be insulted if it's criticized.

3. Tipping

  1. DON'T tip. It's not customary.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DON'T give someone an expensive gift if you know that they can't reciprocate. Gifts are always reciprocated in South Korean culture.
  2. DO wrap gifts nicely. Red, yellow, or pink are the preferred colors for wrapping paper. Red and yellow are royal colors and yellow and pink are considered happy colors.
  3. DON'T wrap gifts in green, white, or black.
  4. DON'T give gifts in multiples of four (as it's considered unlucky). Seven is a lucky number, though.
  5. DON'T open a gift upon receipt. You may open it later.
  6. DO give gifts using both hands.
  7. DON'T sign a card associated with a gift in red ink.

5. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting. A bow is also a traditional South Korean greeting. The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status, however the person of higher status will initiate a handshake.
  2. DO say “man-na-suh pan-gop-sumnida” when initiating a bow. It means “pleased to meet you.”
  3. DO bid farewells to everyone individually accompanied with a bow when you leave a social setting.

6. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO bring fruit, flowers, or chocolates for your host.
  2. DON'T arrive more than half an hour late.
  3. DO take your shoes off before going inside a home.
  4. DO expect to be walked out, as it's seen as insulting to say good-bye to your guests inside.
  5. DO send your hosts a thank you note the following day.

7. Business Meeting

  1. DO try to have a third party to initiate business. South Koreans prefer to do business with someone they are already connected to. Business relationships grow through social gatherings that are informal and include food and drink.
  2. DO be direct. South Koreans are direct, so be direct in return.
  3. DO schedule meetings at least three weeks in advance.
  4. DON'T be late.
  5. DO send an agenda and other materials in advance. All materials should be printed in both English and Korean.
  6. DON'T expect much business to be conducted in the first meeting, as the first meeting will primarily be to get to know each other.
  7. DON'T take your jacket off until the person with the most seniority does.
  8. DO have one side of your business card translated into Korean.
  9. DO use both hands to present your business card and present it with the Korean side facing up.
  10. DO treat business cards with utmost respect. When receiving it, examine it closely and don't write on it. Store business cards carefully.

8. Socializing and Conversation

  1. DO feel comfortable discussing the following: sports (particularly soccer), South Korea's economy and international achievements, the health of one's family, kites, and personal hobbies.
  2. DON'T discuss politics, the Korean War, socialism, communism, or personal family matters.
  3. DON'T confuse South Korea with other Asian countries.
  4. DO be modest if someone compliments you.
  5. DON'T be surprised if you're asked personal questions, such as your age or salary.

The etiquette list might seem a little overwhelming, but you'll catch on as you go! Just keep an open mind and be polite throughout your trip. Have a great trip to South Korea!

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