The Art of Korean Etiquette

By Evelyn Lopez

Korea is a land of many traditions. Some have changed with time, such as medical practices; some may have completely stopped, like the daily usage of Hanbok; however, one tradition remains and seems as if it is here to stay: the tradition of Korean etiquette.

It is no mystery that Korea, like many other Asian countries, has a strong belief in etiquette and lives strictly by this in comparison to other countries around the world. It can be seen on a daily basis in the simple acts that are being made. Of course, we must take into consideration that etiquette often changes based on the situation one is in.

One cannot put Korean etiquette under a simple usage of honorifics. Korean etiquette goes beyond showing status when one speaks. For starters, etiquette can be seen in something as simple as eating. When in a Korean restaurant or household, it is proper to wait for all members of the party to be seated with their food. Following that, all members of the party have to wait until the oldest person at the table takes the first bite or if the eldest member of the party gives the rest of the members the okay to start eating.

Many of the etiquette rules can be seen at the table, such as when you go drinking, you don’t serve your own cup and must hold the cup with two hands to show respect. You must also turn away from your superiors when you drink from your cup. Additionally, if you dine in Korea or a place with the same ideas of etiquette, you should never pick up your plate off of the table as this is seen as a rude gesture.

 

Of course not all of Korea’s etiquette is seen at the table. Acts of respect are seen in greetings as well. It is quite common to see two people (typically on a a business meeting) shake hands while using both hands to do the action of greeting. It is also proper to bow to people you meet, especially if that person is older or of a higher status; usually the youngest individual is the first to bow. Although you can’t take a ruler with you to measure how low you bow, it is seen as polite to bow at a forty-five degree angle with both hands flat on your side or on your thighs/abdomen area.

These are just a few respectful rule of thumbs you should be aware of for your next or first visit to Korea. It's always a good idea to be aware of others and their customs; being culturally educated on the customs of others shows how great of an individual you are for taking the time to learn how others live.


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