In Korea, certain habits that are all right back home are totally taboo, and will not help you make new friends.
Here are our top etiquette tips if you are visiting South Korea for the first time, so you don’t accidentally offend the locals.
1. Ladies, Cover Up!
Although short-shorts and skirts are popular in Korea’s major cities for women, elsewhere, bare shoulders and low-cut tops are considered taboo.
Summers in South Korea are getting humid, so a good alternative to tank tops is loose-fitting t-shirts. And if that cleavage really can’t be covered up, be prepared for some not so nice looks, especially from older Korean women.
2. Both Hands Embrace and Present Items
When embracing change or passing something at a table for dinner, use both hands. If you feel silly handing a cashier a bill in both hands, try this When you extend your arm with the payment, put your left hand on the inside of your right wrist.
Often, strive with your right hand to always embrace and present things. Lefties, sorry!
3. Learn How to Shake Hands Properly
Use both hands while shaking hands—or at least put your left hand for support on your right wrist. A friendly gesture is often a slight bow of the head.
4. Keep your hands (at least at first!) to yourself!
Although it’s not unusual to get your way thrown on a crowded street by a few elbows, Koreans are not big on hitting anyone they don’t know about. This means hugs and shoulder pats between strangers are not accepted.
However, something as intimate as walking down the street while holding hands is totally appropriate once you’re in the friend zone.
5. Age is relevant
Be prepared for total strangers upon meeting to ask your age. When I first moved to Korea, I was totally shocked (and a little bit offended) by this issue. While in your home country this may be considered a rude question, in Korean culture it is totally natural as it establishes seniority in a relationship.
Yeah, and you’re one year older in Korea than you think you are because “one year old” is born to everyone.
6. Get your shoes off
Don’t dare you (unless you want to be seen as a disrespectful savage!) walk inside with shoes on. Before entering Korean homes, temples and even schools, make sure to remove your shoes.
Slippers are also given, so you don’t have to be barefoot.
7. Don’t Place your feet on the furniture
And refrain from resting your tired tootsies on the chair across from you, no matter how tempting that may be, while we’re on the subject of feet.
We learned the tough way! The bottoms of one’s feet are seen as “dirty,” so a major no-no is propping them up on furniture.
8. Wait for the first bite to take
Usually, in dining cases, the first bite would be taken by the oldest person. This means that everyone else will be able to start feeding.
09. With Your Chopsticks, be careful
Be careful not to put your chopsticks upright in your bowl after you’ve finished feeding. This is said at a funeral to look like incense.
Lay them across the mouth of the bowl instead so they balance around it.
10. Wait for Your Nose to Blow
Yeah, I know the gochujang (red chili paste) is spicy, but don’t grab a tissue and go against your instincts. In public, blowing your nose is considered rude, especially while eating.
If that drip just won’t stop, excuse yourself politely and take care of the bathroom company.
11. Look Out for Number 4
In Korea, the number four is unlucky because it sounds close to the phrase “death.” “You may notice that there is no fourth floor in many buildings, or it will be labeled “F.
Giving gifts in fours is often called unlucky.
12. Don’t Write with Red Ink
Never ever write in red ink the name of another. I discovered the hard way once again!
When I began writing one of their names on the whiteboard using a red marker, I was screamed at by a room full of students. As dead people’s names are written in red, this is a bad omen.
13. In your hand movements, be careful
Make sure that your palm is facing down and you move all your fingers in one sweeping movement while gesturing for someone to come over to you or when hailing a taxi.
As is common in many countries, making this gesture palm-up is insulting in Korea because it’s the way they call their dogs. Don’t make a mistake here!
14. Don’t throw toilet paper in the restroom
Time for bathroom talk: Sure, we are going there! You’ll see a bin for toilet paper in Korean bathrooms. Instead of the tub, toss the toilet paper in this one.
This also goes for feminine goods, ladies. The plumbing systems are unable to manage the waste, so save yourself the guilt and do as the Koreans do.
15. Noraebang Etiquette Respect
In Korea, noraebangs (karaoke rooms) are super popular. So long as you obey a few simple (and common sense) guidelines, they make for a nice night out with friends or co-workers.
When you see the song list, you might be pleased, but resist the urge to plug in the numbers for every Spice Girl song in the book. Select one, and before you pick another, let others have a turn.
And don’t hog the microphone on that note-everyone is there to have a nice time (and not just listen to you belt the words out to your favorite tunes), so share the spotlight with the time.
Finally stop songs which aren’t upbeat. Although singing in the shower may be enjoyable, ballads are not as entertaining in a noraebang.