Ten Rookie Mistakes You Absolutely Need To Avoid Making In South Korea And What You Should Do Instead
By Satida Thipasathien on Feb 09, 2022
Annyeonghaseyo! Let me guess, you are here because your adventure in South Korea is around the corner. You probably have some ideas about what you want to do and eat; and where you want to go in South Korea… have some Ssamjang Chicken, visit Bukchon Hanok Traditional Village, go on a shopping splur at Itaewon... Now, what about some things that you should avoid doing? No? Nothing? You will know ten soon enough...let’s get started..!When in South Korea, you should try your best to avoid:
Using Nappeun Son / Bad hands
Any kind of touch is considered a taboo, or worse, personal violation in South Korea, whether it be resting your hand on someone else’s shoulder when taking a group photo or a light pat on someone's back. If you want to pose for a picture, try gesturing a peace sign - you can do so by forming a v-shape using your index and middle fingers. Want to get someone’s attention, say jam-shi-man-yo (that’s ‘excuse me’ in Korean).
Being Unmindful With Your Language (Use Informal Language)
When talking to a stranger in South Korea, you are strongly advised to use formal or polite language, also known as Haeyo-che, to avoid offending the people around you. Keep in mind that respect is deeply integrated in Korean culture since hierarchy and social status are highly considered as something important. It never hurts to be courteous!
Initiating A Handshake With An Elder Or Shake Their Hands With One Hand
It is extremely impolite for a younger person to offer a handshake with an elder or someone considerably older… so, don’t do that. What’s also disrespectful? You guessed it! Receiving a hand-shake from an elder with one hand – receive hand-shakes with two hands. Here’s a little trick: place your left hand on your right hand to accept hand-shakes and bow your head slightly to show gratitude!
Sitting Randomly On The Public Transport
On one of these days, your good eyes should wander and notice a few brightly colored seats on the Korean public transport (bright yellows in the image below). Those distinct color seats are priority seats! Priority seats can often be seen on subways or public buses. These are typically reserved; left unattended. These priority seats are exclusives for elders, and, well, others who may need them. Be mindful of where you sit if you don’t want any disapproving stares!
Fig.1. Casual ride on the bus in South Korea (source: Erin Song on Unsplash)
Smoking On The Streets Or In A Bar
If you want to smoke, there are designated areas for that. Keep an eye out for the ‘Smoking Area’ signs as these are only common in downtown business areas, hospitals, government offices, and large stores. A quick note: you should never - and I say never - smoke in areas where they are restricted; places with a lot of foot traffic; or open doors and windows...or you could risk getting fined. And these fines are not cheap either, they could be as high as 100,000 won!!
Receiving A Cup Of Drink With One Hand
This one shares a similar concept with #3. When someone of a higher status; someone of an older age than you, offers you something, in this case: a cup of drink, you should always accept them with both of your hands. Show them that you are appreciative of their help. Plus, you would risk coming off as rude if you accept the glass with one hand! We do not want that, do we?
Sitting In Someone Else’s Spot At Company Gatherings
Ignoring dinner seating arrangements could be one of the most fatal mistakes you can ever make! There are designated seats for everyone at the table. It can get quite complicated so bear with me... Say this is your first day at work and you are invited to this outing by your boss, along with your two seniors and your colleague who is the same age as you. The most honored person (determined by how important someone's role is in the organization) should be seated first at the middle of the table. In our case, this person would be your boss. Next person to get seated should be the second most important person in the room. That could be one of the seniors, followed by another. You, being the honored guest in our scenario, should be seated in the middle, opposite to your boss, and the furthest away from the door.
Wearing Your Outdoor Shoes Inside A House Or A Restaurant
It is a commonly known fact that outdoor shoes are not allowed inside Asian households. But South Koreans take it a step further, this rule applies to restaurants too. Don’t worry, they will not let you enter the venue with your bare feet! Normally, they will prepare you your pairs of indoor shoes or sil-nae-hwa to keep your feet warm and comfy!
Eating Before Your Elder
This one also plays on what is now a recurring theme of respect. It is considered to be impolite - some would go as far as calling it rude - to start eating your meal before elders or seniors at your table. Once food is served, check on the elders and seniors before you start on those Sundubu-jjigae!
Refusing An Invitation
South Korea has a strong drinking culture. This is how South Koreans socialize! So don’t be surprised if your coworkers walk up to you and invite you for dinner afterwards. However, you should be extremely vigilant on how you respond to them! Turning down their invitation could mean that you do not want to be friends with them! If you really could not, be sure to be extra polite with your words!
We did it! Now that you know ten things that you should never do in South Korea, you are good to go! Check out more information about these internships by clicking here! Join us today!