If it’s your first time visiting Korea, then there are a few things to be aware of when it comes to Korean etiquette. It’s not a big deal if you can’t remember all of them all. However, it’s better to be informed, so you can leave a lasting impression on the new people you meet!
Pour the proper way.
As you already know, Korean’s are heavy drinkers. For instance, if you are fortunate to work at a company you will know about the dreaded “Hoesiks.” Once a month, but usually once or twice a week, co workers and bosses go out and have a meal together. The hoesik meal- which is difficult to refuse, is about getting coworkers to open up. However, saying what’s on your mind can sometimes be difficult. So Koreans encourage ample amount’s of drinking. Throw in some soju, maekju and somaek-Korean alcohol, and you get one hell of a night.
What’s more, if you are coming to work or study in Korea, then the chances of going on a hoesik is pretty much guaranteed. So before heading out to one, here are some some useful tips to be aware of.
Firstly, you should never pour your own alcohol. If you try, someone will rip the bottle from your hand and beer will be flying everywhere. Instead, you should pour someone else’s alcohol, and they will return the favor. A point to note also is that you should use two hands to pour and not one. It’s also customary to pour the drink when the cup is empty. Now that’s out of the way, let’s move on to drinking the alcohol. If the person who poured you a drink is older, it’s polite to turn your head, so your facing away when you drink it. After knocking back the soju, in Korean culture it’s always good to say: “gomabseubnida.”
Resist the temptation to talk loud on public transport.
In the west, traveling on the bus or train isn’t a silent experience. The teenagers at the back of the bus are blaring music from their phones, and the old folk at the front are chattering away. However, in Korea it’s uncommon to hear a single conversation when you travel on public transport, especially on inter city buses. It could be first thing in the morning, mid afternoon or late at night and the bus will be silent, apart from the occasional grunt, cough or sneeze. It seems Korean’s like to travel in silence, or maybe it’s the hangover kicking in from the previous night’s dinner. It’s best to respect Korea etiquette when riding the bus, otherwise you might run the risk of being scolded and kicked off by the driver.
If you are writing a card for someone, make sure it’s not written in red ink. Koreans are somewhat superstitious about using red ink. This is because people used to write the names of deceased family members in red ink and many believed writing with a red pen meant you were wishing harm or death upon the their family. I think these days people wouldn’t think you were wishing harm upon them, but it would be a shock and seen as rude.
Street food is usually cash only.
Street food is always cash only, unless advertised. I know in China, people use We-Chat to pay for dumplings and baoz dumplings. However, the trend is still to catch on in Korea. It’s best to use the smallest notes possible, usually a 1,000 or 5,000 bill’s, unless you are ordering a mountain of food.
Take your shoes off before entering a house.
Even in schools, teachers and students swap their shoes for flip flops and sandals before entering. It’s also well mannered and Korean etiquette to remove your shoes, and leave them at the door when you enter a Koreans home. This custom dates back to the past, when Korean’s ate and slept on the floor- some still do. Therefore you can see why it is considered rude to walk straight in, without removing your pretty shoes.