Seoul is the fifth most populous city in the world. It has some of the best street food in Asia. That being said, there are a number of cultural rules. That might surprise you, but here’s everything you need to know before going to Korea.
Number one drinking etiquette.
There are a surprising number of drinking laws in Korea, but the most important one is that if a glass is empty, you have to fill it. This means that, especially if you’re younger than the person you’re drinking with, things can quickly get out of hand. If you don’t want to drink much, make sure your glass is half full. Additionally, if the person you’re drinking with is older, turn your head away when you take a sip from the glass and when someone pours a glass for you, always take it with two hands to show respect.
Another sign of respect is you have to be careful when drinking in Korea is refusing a drink from someone, which basically means that you don’t want to be friends with them and they’ll take it personally.
Number two is using chopsticks, the most common mistake people make while using chopsticks in Asia, is leaving them sticking upright in a bowl of rice, this act is actually part of many Asian cultural funeral ceremonies and should be avoided at all costs.
Number three, seating in trains.. now it may sound obvious to say not to sit in the reserved elderly seating, but in some cultures like America, you can take that seat if there are no elderly present and then just get up and move. If someone comes along. However, in Korea, that’s absolutely not acceptable and you’ll likely be scolded if you do.
That brings us to number four: don’t talk on trains, in most Asian countries showing respect to those around you is a big deal and you’ll notice that no one carries conversations on trains. Little lone makes a phone call. This is seen as disrespectful to the personal space of others, so try to keep a low profile.
Number five is equally just as important. Don’t leave a tip! while tipping in Korea isn’t like tipping in Japan, where, if you leave a tip, it’s actually considered insulting to the person. Tips, aren’t expected or required here so if you do decide to tip the amount is totally up to you.
Number six, don’t be afraid to shout at your waiter, while it may seem rude in other countries in Korea. The way to get your waiter’s attention is by yelling. The reason for this is that waiters in Korea will leave you alone for your meal, which means the only way to get their attention is to either yell at them or use one of the call buttons located on the side of your table in some restaurants.
Number seven, don’t get into a fight. South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world, but its legal system is unfairly biased against international visitors. It’s best to just walk away, as the law is likely to side with the locals nearly every time.
Number eight, there’s no such thing as personal space. Seoul has a population of over 25 million people. So if you hate crowds, this is going to be a tough one because of the sheer number of people here being pushed or shoved, it isn’t considered rude and if anything is to be expected, you’ll likely find yourself being shoved or elbowed in a subway, so don’t take it personally.
Number 9, don’t write using red ink. Korean culture is very superstitious and writing names in red ink is thought to mean that the person will die soon or that you want them to die. This tradition goes back hundreds of years when the names of the deceased were written in red on gravestones to ward off evil spirits, so next time, you’re writing a birthday card in Korea, maybe you hold off on using red.
Number ten, don’t receive things with one hand in case you can’t already tell, Korea is all about respect and part of that comes from understanding how to give and receive things, and just like in most Asian cultures, receiving things with one hand is considered insulting and rude while receiving things with two hands shows respect the person giving you something. That’s why a lot of times when you get change back from someone, even a cashier they’ll, hold one arm out with the money and then use their other arm to touch that arm to show their respect, so keep in mind whenever receiving anything always receive it with two hands, whether it be a drink, a bill or any other kind of gift.
Last but not least, at number eleven, always share. Koreans have a special concept of sharing called Jeong and it’s difficult to translate into English, but it basically means the connection between people. In this society, if you don’t share it, you’ll be seen as greedy, which means you have little or no Jeong and in order to travel in Korea, it’s important to be aware of this aspect of their culture and that’s about it.
Let us know what you think and drop a comment below.