Planning a visit to South Korea? Learning about its culture, tradition, and some do’s and don’ts can give you a head start, especially if you’re staying in this beautiful country for the first time.
Korean etiquette circles in ‘respect,’ so if you don’t want to break social norms and disrespect their culture unintentionally, then you’re reading the right article!
Korean Etiquette – 15 Things Not To Do In South Korea
We know you’re excited to go off and explore, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make the best impression and enjoy your trip — without any trouble. Below are the 15 things not to do in South Korea:
- Greeting people with hugs, shoulder pats, and kisses on the cheeks.
- Being loud in public places.
- Blowing your nose in public.
- Being offended when someone asks your age.
- Bringing your shoes inside a house.
- Asking someone if they had plastic surgery.
- Being a picky eater.
- Writing a person’s name using red ink.
- Tipping someone for their services.
- Declining a shot of soju.
- Sticking your chopsticks in a rice bowl.
- Wearing revealing clothes.
- Sitting randomly in public transportations.
- Causing a scene in public.
- Not being aware of noraebang etiquette.
1. Greeting people with hugs, shoulder pats, and kisses on the cheeks.
While shoulder pats, hugs, and kisses on the cheeks are the most common ways to say hello, they’re rude and disrespectful in South Korea. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you can either bow or shake hands to show your manners.
For casual meetings with friends and colleagues, you can tilt your head with a slight bend from the waist. But for more important meetings, you should bow deeper as the lower you bow, the more respect you show.
Also, for Koreans, using the left hand for handshakes is considered bad luck. So, always remember to use both hands or right hand to be on the safe side.
Read More: Why Do Koreans Bow
2. Being loud in public places.
Being loud in public is impolite and unethical behavior because it can make others annoyed and uncomfortable. Whether you’re in a conversation with your friend or sharing a phone call, remember to keep your voice low.
Also, always practice wearing earphones when watching videos or listening to music to avoid causing inconvenience for the people around you.
So, if you don’t want to draw attention and embarrass yourself, it’s best to keep a low profile!
3. Blowing your nose in public.
We all know the struggle of having a runny nose and getting the mucus out of your nose is really soothing. However, if you’re in South Korea, specifically in public places, try to hold it as much as you can!
Blowing your nose in public places is considered rude, unhygienic, and inappropriate.
The same applies when you’re at a dining table with other people. So, you can either try to continuously snort it back into your nose or excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.
4. Being offended when someone asks your age.
Before you get offended when a stranger asks your age upon meeting, know that it’s absolutely normal in South Korea!
Koreans use formal and informal language when talking to others. They also treat and address others based on age. So, they need to know one’s age to determine which type of language to use and how polite they should be.
If someone’s older and higher in social status than you, avoid using informal language as it’s considered an insult. Instead, always use formal language to show honor and respect.
5. Bringing your shoes inside a house.
If you’re Asian, taking your shoes off before entering home isn’t new to you. But learning about this tradition for the first time won’t make you an exception, so don’t forget to do it as everyone does. Or else, you’ll disrespect the people who live and have lived there!
Aside from being a sign of respect, Koreans kept this tradition to maintain cleanliness as they usually eat, sleep, and do leisure activities on the floor.
Read More: The 12 Best Youtubers In Korea To Watch
6. Asking someone if they had plastic surgery.
With top-ranking plastic surgeons, affordable appointments, and innovative procedures, South Korea is one of the famous countries for plastic surgery.
Because of this, most people think that all Koreans are obsessed with plastic surgery — becoming one of the Korean stereotypes that are actually not true!
So, if you’re planning to start a conversation and make friends with Koreans, avoid giving snide comments and asking — even if you’re just really curious — if they had plastic surgeries as it’s offensive.
7. Being a picky eater.
Want to be extra polite when someone invites you to have a meal at their home? Forget being a picky eater, and don’t refuse the food they’ll serve you!
With a variety of main and side dishes, Korean food can sometimes be overwhelming, but do your best to try each of them to show gratitude. Also, don’t forget to wait for the elders to take the first bite before digging into your meal!
8. Writing a person’s name using red ink.
Although this one is a Korean superstition, it’s still a no-no in South Korea today. Traditionally, Koreans use red ink to write the names of the deceased.
Ever since its ‘connection’ to death became a belief, Koreans refrained from writing the names of the living with red ink as it’s considered bad luck and potentially life-threatening.
So if you’re planning to give someone a gift or write a letter to someone, don’t use red ink to write their names!
9. Tipping someone for their services.
Did you know? There’s a ‘no-tipping’ culture in South Korea! This means that tipping is not an obligation of customers as services are already included in bills. Although offering small gratuities isn’t totally a bad thing to do, it still might be insulting and offensive in some situations.
You May Also Like: The 19 Best Books About Korea
10. Declining a shot of soju.
Just like rejecting offered food, it’s also rude to turn down a shot of soju from your boss, colleagues, and elders. Declining one’s offer might cause misunderstandings as it’s considered a symbol of friendship.
If you don’t really want to drink alcohol, you can politely explain why you’re refusing.
And keep your manners by following the soju etiquette.
11. Sticking your chopsticks in a rice bowl.
Sticking your chopsticks straight upright in a bowl of rice (especially into someone else’s bowl) is taboo in South Korea. Since it resembles incense used in funerals, it might insult your family or everyone on the table.
So, if you’ve finished eating and using chopsticks, simply place them beside your bowl or plate.
12. Wearing revealing clothes.
Dress correctly is a big part of Korean etiquette!
While Korean fashion slowly shifts to a modern style (sleeveless shirts, off-shoulders, crop tops, and tube tops), showing too much skin and wearing revealing clothes is still considered indecent in South Korea. Plus, it’s uncommon for Koreans to wear these clothes daily.
Koreans are conservative in clothing, so if you don’t want people glaring at you, avoid wearing clothes that expose your shoulders or chest area!
Read More: Korea Work Culture Facts
13. Sitting randomly in public transportations.
Public transportation rules are pretty strict in South Korea, and people value and follow them to be considerate to other passengers.
So, if you’re on public transportation, be mindful of your environment. Apart from talking loudly and taking up too much space, avoid using the priority seats for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women, even if they’re empty!
14. Causing a scene in public.
When walking in the busy streets of South Korea, you’ll probably bump a few elbows and shoulders. If they don’t stop walking to apologize, don’t be furious! It’s perfectly normal, and they don’t make it an issue.
But Koreans usually apologize when they think they’ve hurt someone accidentally, so we suggest you do the same!
15. Not being aware of noraebang etiquette.
If you’ve made some friends in South Korea, you’ll most likely find yourself in a noraebang or private singing room.
Just like other public places, there are also do’s and don’t in noraebang. Of course, you went there to sing your heart out, but your friends might not like it if you hog the mic. Let everyone have their turn, reserve songs in moderation, and mix up your song selection to balance the mood!
You can get more info about Korean karaoke in this complete guide: All You Need To Know About Noraebang.
I hope learned more about Korean etiquette by reading these 15 things not to do in South Korea!
Knowing the basic do’s and don’ts in South Korea can keep you away from angry ahjummas and a messy trip. You just have to learn about Korean etiquette and have at least a little background on its tradition and culture, and you’ll be fine and good to go!
We hope you’ve learned a lot from this blog post!
Want to make your trip even smoother? Perhaps learning the Korean language will do the trick! For a good start, you might also read: Learn Korean For Free With These 10 YouTube Channels.
You can also discover what Koreans do for the first birthday of their kids here: Doljanchi and Doljabi.