DO’S AND DON’TS
- Be aware of details when building social relationships: gifts, lucky numbers and colors
Gift giving is an important part of Korean culture: exchanging gifts is a way of establishing good relations. Since they are always reciprocated, it’s best not to give expensive gifts, as this might be awkward for the recipient. Also appropriate gifts when visiting someone’s home in Korea (including fruit, flowers or chocolate) are really appreciated.
But be aware: don’t give gifts in multiples of four, as this number is considered unlucky; but take into consideration that seven is a good number. Wrap gifts in red or yellow paper (they are royal colors) or, alternatively, in yellow or pink paper (they are associated with happiness). Don’t wrap gifts in green, white or black paper.
- Social meetings
When you are at a social gathering, wait to be introduced and when you leave, say goodbye and bow to each person individually
- Business cards
Do you remember how important is assessing the social rank of a person to know how to behave according to those implicit rules, especially in a business context? The instrument that can help you in this is the business card. But remember: business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions in a highly ritualized manner and the way you will treat someone’s business card will be indicative of the way you will treat the person. So receive it with both hands, pretty carefully. Put it in a safe place and never write on someone’s business card in their presence.
- “Relation with feet and shoes”
Always remove your shoes before entering a Korean home. There are also some restaurants where you are supposed to enter with bare feet or with just socks. And remember that feet are perceived as dirty and should not touch other people or objects. Take care that the soles of their shoes are pointing down. And never dare give shoes as a gift to your Korean partner: it means “fly away”!
- Leave open-minded
Set out on every journey without stereotypes and prejudices and always try to ask to yourself why something happens and it’s different from your own culture. It will help you to see and understand a lot of things that you can’t even imagine.
Take South Korea for example; you may have heard that they eat dog meat and probably you criticized them for this. You have to know that some time ago their life was based on agriculture and during summer, when agricultural work was really hard, the farmers needed to gain high level of protein from meat. Most of the times they were not pretty much rich and what they owned was usually cows, pigs and dogs. Cows were a precious and needful workforce for agricultural life and pigs were really rare in that period (they were eaten just on special occasions). Therefore they used to eat dogs; also, according to Korean medicine theory, dog meat gives the right energy to face excessive heat.
- Different habits
What is shameful for you, sometimes it’s just normal in another culture. So don’t blow your nose in public: it’s considered vulgar. Even if heavily spiced Korean food makes your nose run, turn aside and blow it quietly. It will be even better to get up and move away from the table before blowing your nose, especially if you are sitting with older people.
But don’t be surprised if Koreans shove the food in their mouth and slurp and chew very loud.
- Seemingly innocent hand gestures
Don’t beckon a person by moving an index finger toward you: it’s considered really rude! You may beckon someone younger and junior by extending your arm with a palm down and moving your fingers up and down.
- Some tips about table manners
Never point your chopsticks or pierce your food with them. It would cause raised eyebrows. Don’t pick up food with your hands and try to use a toothpick when eating fruit. You shouldn’t accept the first offer of second helpings. And if you are at the restaurant, don’t give extra-money to the waiter: he can follow you to give it back to you since it’s not use there.
- Social hierarchy at the table
Don’t make a rush for the empty seat. It’s best to be told where to sit when visiting South Korea, as there is often a strict protocol about social rank to be followed. The seat of honor for example is the seat looking at the front door, and if you are seated there, it is polite to protest initially before taking your place.