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Guide To Basic Korean Etiquette

September 18th, 2008 by

South Korea is one the most-visited destinations in Asia. If and when you get to visit, it would be very helpful if you are familiar with basic Korean etiquette not only as a way for you to avoid awkward situations but for you to appreciate Korea’s culture more. It is reasonable to assume that Korea’s etiquette would come across as weird or strange to any foreign traveler but looking deeper into the underlying history and symbolisms of Korea’s customs and beliefs would definitely make you understand the “whys” and the “how comes.” Let us categorize etiquette to the following categories: General Etiquette, Business Etiquette and Dining Etiquette.


Since you will be meeting a lot of new acquaintances in Korea, there is a big chance that you will get invited for some house visits. When you visit someone, remember that you should remove your shoes before you enter the house.


Gift giving is also an important part of Korean culture so you need to have gifts prepared wherever you may go most especially if you’ll be visiting someone. Gifts can be in the form of delicacies that are native to your home country or even flowers. When giving an item, make sure that you do so with both hands and the same goes if you are the one accepting gifts. Although gifts need not be expensive, it would be a nice touch if you will wrap your gifts with brightly colored paper like red or yellow wrappers.

When you leave a gathering, thank your hosts graciously and bow to each individual as a sign of respect.

As for tipping, it is not customary in Korea. You will notice that for services, various establishments make it a point to add 10% for taxes. But it is okay to give tips to taxi drivers if they assist you with some of your bags. If you see a sign that says “No Tipping” then you should not insist because this is very insulting.

Needless to say, you must never insult or criticize people in front of other people or in short, do not cause others to lose face in front of their peers.


As with any business dealings, etiquette must also be taken into consideration. Korean businessmen would not expect foreigners to totally understand all aspects of their culture but any effort to do so would be greatly appreciated.

Dress Properly

Meetings are booked weeks in advance. It is not acceptable to just show up in another person’s office unannounced. After you schedule the meeting, make sure that are on time to show respect for the people who you are meeting with.

Koreans are still quite conservative when it comes to business dealings and this includes the way you dress. Introductions still start with a traditional bow and a firm handshake. The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status while the most senior person in the group is the one who initiates the handshake. Since Koreans give importance to superiors, introductions are done according to corporate hierarchy and age where the most important person is always introduced first. To get in the good side of your new contacts, it would help to know how to say ‘an-yang-ha-say-yo’ (hello) and ‘gam-sa-ham-ni-da’ (thank you) to incorporate in your greetings.

Preliminary introductions will be followed by an exchange of business cards. These cards must be given and received by using both hands and ensure that the writing on the card is readable to the recipient. Give time to read the details on the business card and place them on the table in front of you. Do not keep them right away. This is also the best time to ask how another person would prefer to be addressed during conversations because Koreans are addressed as “President”, “Chairman”, “Manager”, etc. and not by their surnames. A person’s given name is used only among relatives and close friends. You would also have to look at the cards occasionally throughout the meeting.

After the meeting, Koreans are used to escorting their guests to the reception area or even to the elevator. Remember to shake their hands and say proper goodbyes before you part ways.


Remove Your Shoes

Since you will be doing a lot of shopping and EATING during your visit to Korea then you should take note of Korea’s dining etiquette.

There are some restaurants that would require you to enter with bare feet or with just your socks on. You should be conscious of how people should be seated on the dining table. Korea is very strict about this that if you are not sure, it is highly advisable to wait until you are told as to where you are supposed to sit. After you are seated, you would have to wait for the eldest person who is seated at the table to start eating before taking your first bite no matter how starved you may be. The most senior person in the group is also served first. When it comes to accepting second servings of food, it is customary in Korea to refuse the first offer.

Proper Seating Arrangement

The Chinese and Koreans follow a similar set of dining etiquette when it comes to using chopsticks. Just like with Chinese tradition, in Korea you also have to avoid leaving your chopsticks in such a way that they appear to be sticking out of the bowl because they will resemble incense sticks that are lighted during funerals. Never use your chopsticks to point at anyone. Also, make use of your chopsticks at all times when eating and never use your fingers to put food in your mouth. This action will be frowned upon. Make sure that you only put food that you can finish on you r plate. You can signal that you are already done with your meal by placing your chopsticks on the chopstick rest beside your plate. The chopsticks should not rest on any bowl or dish during the meal.

You must be thinking by now that there are just so many things to digest in just one sitting. Again, the most important thing to remember here is that these guidelines should in no way stop you from having a grand time. It should actually work the other way around. These guidelines are meant to assist you so that you don’t end up unintentionally getting on the bad side of Koreans during your travel to Korea.

7 Responses to “Guide To Basic Korean Etiquette”

  1. Ross Says:

    those are lovely looking flowers kitci!

  2. Ross Says:

    chinese and koreans follow almost the same guidelines for the use of chopsticks.. interesting!

  3. Kitci Wong Says:

    Thanks Ross! :) Keep on visiting :D

  4. Alex Tan Says:

    Ooh! Ooh! I know a Korean etiquette!

    Never serve yourself a drink; always pour others drink, let others refill your glass.

  5. Kitci Wong Says:

    Yup.. yup! Thanks for adding that Alex :D

  6. mickyarba Says:

    Korea DINING ETIQUETTE is diiferent with the western style. at least you mush shoe off before get in the resturant.

  7. nana Says:

    i need to do an assgnment..
    regarding “conducting meeting during lunch and dinner in Taiwan”
    is it appropriate?
    pls help me………………………………. :((

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