Etiquette in South Korea

In South Korea, etiquette, or the code of social behavior that governs human interactions, is largely derived from Korean Confucianism and focuses on the core values of this religion.[1] In addition to general behaviour, etiquette in South Korea also determines how to behave with respect to social status. Although most aspects of etiquette are accepted by the country at large, customs can be localized to specific regions or influenced by other cultures, namely China, Japan, and the United States.

South Korean chopsticks and spoon.

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. . . Etiquette in South Korea . . .

There are several points of etiquette in South Korea that are defined by either cultural taboos or broader concerns about manners. The following three practices are examples of widespread and recognizable concerns to native South Koreans as a whole.

  • Using the number four is considered unlucky, even ominous, as the pronunciation of the word ‘four’ and the Chinese character ‘死’ (meaning death) are similar. It is also considered bad luck to select the fourth floor in an elevator, some are even built without a fourth floor button. Gifts are also rarely given in multiples of four, whereas giving items in multiples of seven is considered lucky and a wish for good fortune.[2]
  • Kissing in public is looked down upon and seen as highly immodest among older individuals in South Korea. This has become less taboo with the current generation of young adults, but is still widely discouraged by elders.[3]
  • Dressing well is important in South Korea; it is considered a sign of respect. Wearing a suit and tie is typically appropriate in formal situations, such as meeting new people. South Koreans also dress well for civic activities, especially in larger cities like Seoul.[4]
Colin Powell & Roh Moo-hyun shaking hands.

South Koreans are reserved and well-mannered people. South Korea is a land of strict Confucian hierarchy and etiquette is important. In respect much can be said on the differences on how to conduct oneself as a male South Korean and a female South Korean. The bow is the traditional Korean greeting, although it is often accompanied by a handshake among men. To show respect when shaking hands, support your right forearm with your left hand. South Korean women usually nod slightly. Western women may offer their hand to a Korean man. Bow when departing. Younger people wave (move their arm from side to side).[5] South Koreans consider it a personal violation to be touched by someone who is not a relative or close friend. Touching, patting, or back slapping is to be avoided during interactions. In addition, direct eye contact between juniors and seniors should be avoided because it is seen as impolite or even a challenge. Korea is one of the most demographically homogeneous countries in the world, racially and linguistically. It has its own culture, language, dress and cuisine, separate and distinct from its neighboring countries. Hard work, filial piety and modesty are characteristics esteemed by Koreans. (ediplomat.com) Due to filial piety and the nature of how women are raised in South Korea there some acts of etiquette that do not apply to men. Women dress modestly; dress should not be form fitting and revealing.[6] However, this etiquette of gender difference has changed and no longer exists.

. . . Etiquette in South Korea . . .

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. . . Etiquette in South Korea . . .

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