South Korean Culture


Primary Author
Nina Evason,

Basic Etiquette

  • In Korea, people rarely thank one another for gestures of courtesy (e.g. holding open doors), nor do they generally apologise if they bump into one another on the street. English-speaking westerners may interpret this as being rude or disrespectful behaviour, but keep in mind that Koreans consider such minor incidents or manners to be actions that one should anticipate and expect in life. Therefore, they generally do not require a profuse apology, a ‘thank you’ or even acknowledgement. Respect is exhibited in different ways.
  • Respect should always be shown to those that are older than you. This involves deferring to their opinion, waiting for their input and lowering your gaze if they are an elder.
  • Objects, gifts and food should be offered and received with two hands.
  • Remove your hat when indoors.
  • It is best practice to remove your shoes before entering a Korean home.
  • Koreans are reasonably punctual and usually prompt. They tend to try and make the most of the time they have. In certain settings, this can come across as impatient. 
  • Use two hands or your right hand alone to offer or receive something. Avoid using the left hand alone. See Non-Verbal in Communication for more information. 
  • Basic hygiene is noticed and appreciated. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching other people or things if they are dirty. People may look down on those with visibly dirty hands as low-class.


  • It is considered inappropriate for adults to eat while walking, so street food is often eaten on the spot where it is bought.
  • Food should not be eaten with one’s fingers.
  • Spoons are used to eat soup, but chopsticks are used for everything else.
  • Do not blow your nose at the dinner table.
  • The eldest person should be served first. Everyone seated should then wait for them to begin eating before doing so.


  • South Korea has a large drinking culture. Drinking can give status, proving one’s stamina and (particularly for men).
  • If you do not want to participate in drinking, try to give a sincere reason such as medical or religious grounds. Do not make an excuse that could be interpreted as the morals of those drinking.
  • Avoid emptying your glass if you’ve had enough to drink.
  • Fill others’ glasses before your own. In a formal setting, do not fill your own drink and instead wait for someone else to return the gesture and fill yours.

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