4 Tips for Navigating South Korean Culture

4 Tips for Navigating South Korean Culture

Before visiting this East Asia country for the first time, know the ins and outs of its culture By: Melissa Karlin
<p>From etiquette to bowing, clients should be aware of Korea’s cultural norms. // © 2016 Melissa Karlin</p><p>Feature image (above): Explore the land...

From etiquette to bowing, clients should be aware of Korea’s cultural norms. // © 2016 Melissa Karlin

Feature image (above): Explore the land of morning calm. // © 2016 Melissa Karlin

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When in South Korea, carve out some time to sample the local cuisine.

The Details

Upon my arrival in South Korea, in which I found myself navigating the culture and atmosphere, especially as this was my first journey to East Asia. According to Sung-wook Heo, deputy general manager for the business support team of Seoul-based HanaTour, this is because Koreans understand Western traditions and don’t expect Westerners to have a full grasp of Korean manners. However, there are still a few things that visitors should know before they set off exploring the land of the morning calm.

Follow Proper Dining Etiquette
Similar to most East Asia cultures, it is impolite to stick chopsticks or a spoon into a bowl of rice. This act is reminiscent of the funereal incense used in Buddhism and is considered unlucky and rude. When passing and receiving objects from elders, use two hands and, when drinking, never pour your own drink. Pour for others and have them pour for you.

Let Your Feet Breathe
When visiting someone’s home, you must take off your shoes. This is a practice of respect and cleanliness, which is rather indicative of most etiquette practices in South Korea.

Expect to Get Personal
In Korean culture, asking someone’s age or religion is not considered rude — it’s simply a way of being friendly. Bowing is also a traditional greeting in South Korea, and a handshake often accompanies the bow.

Reserve Nighttime Transportation Ahead of Time
Seoul’s efficient subway system shuts down around midnight. Though clients don’t need a reservation for a taxi at all times, at night, especially in the neighborhoods of Hongdae, Itaewon and Gangnam, Heo says that booking a car in advance is a must. I found myself lost at 2 a.m., trying to hail a cab (an impossible feat). After 45 minutes I connected to a night market’s Wi-Fi and hailed an Uber. Purchasing a cellular plan with international data definitely comes in handy.