Suppose you have dedicated a significant amount of time to familiarise yourself with the different cultural practices in South Korea. In that case, you probably are well aware of how different and unique it can get when it’s compared to neighbouring countries – the way they talk, their perspective towards relationships, how they dress, their food choices, their holidays, the list goes on.
The unique nature of Korean culture extends to how they perceive interactions and what they consider as social norms. To put that in perspective – in most countries, two people holding hands can signify a romantic relationship. However, since Koreans are naturally affectionate, two friends can hold hands and still have a completely platonic relationship, regardless of gender.
Indeed, Korean culture stands out from those of other countries, such as how they behave and compose themselves when they know they will meet someone for the first time.
To help you make an excellent first impression based on Korean standards, here are the dos and don’ts that you should always keep in the back of your mind.
Meeting someone in an informal setting happens in a relatively casual manner, such as meeting your internet friend or for the non-millennial reader, your pen pal, the friend of your friend, among others. In this scenario, all you need to keep in mind is to greet them with a short and small bow complemented with your best smile.
Let’s say you’d like to kick things up a notch. In that case, you can even add a polite “안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)” which means “hello” in English – they will most likely take your efforts to learn more phrases and expand your vocabulary by taking up Korean language courses in Singapore a sweet gesture.
Do try not to get too touchy, though. Hugs aren’t really considered a norm for someone you just met. Physical touch between two unrelated people is reserved for those who have been close-knit for quite some time. If you’re aiming to make a good first impression, you really don’t want to jump the gun – avoid the hug and go for something as simple as a high-five.
Meetings done in a formal setting are the ones where you meet people in high regard, such as the parents of your partner or your kid’s teacher. Usually, Koreans take a more significant bow than they usually would in other situations – the more serious the meeting is, the higher the degree of respect you need to show.
Also, do keep in mind that a first-name basis isn’t really observed during formal meetings. Instead, you should address the person you are meeting through their title which, in most cases, should be obvious right from the beginning. If not, you can politely ask the person or those in the same group as you.
Drinking is interesting since it plays a significant part in South Korean culture. When you are in a formal meeting and alcohol is served, they expect you to drink it. Take note that you should drink from the glass that was served to you first to let everyone know that you are a part of the group.
However, if you are trying to wean yourself off from drinking alcohol for different reasons, such as health, you can simply explain to them why you won’t be having any. Chances are, they won’t be forcing you because they are more understanding nowadays.
It’s also essential for you to note that Korea has a hierarchical society, and those older than you should be shown respect. Thus, putting your hand over the shoulder of someone who is years ahead of you should be avoided.
Koreans also put a great value on where people will be seated, which is why they usually take their time arranging guests. If you aren’t sure of where you need to sit down during a formal meeting, you can ask the host or just wait for them to usher you – by all means, do avoid taking any seat that you want.
Meetings that fall under the business setting are where you meet esteemed people such as your boss or someone who ranks high in power. During these meetings, you should show that you value the person you are meeting, starting with receiving their business cards properly.
In South Korea, they consider business cards as an extension of yourself. That’s why when someone hands you their card, you shouldn’t just tuck it away into your wallet right away. Instead, read the contents closely first so that you wouldn’t appear uninterested in associating yourself with them.
In addition, the flow of a business meeting is usually thoroughly planned and packed with many activities that will take up the entire night. If you are going to attend one, be sure that you aren’t run down and tired because these meetings can sometimes end during the early hours of the morning.
Furthermore, you should pay close attention and follow the person with the highest rank. This gesture shows that you respect them, so as much as possible, stand only when they stand, sit only when they sit, and leave only when they leave. Should you find yourself unable to stay for the entire meeting duration, you should inform them before the meeting.
The cultural norms in South Korea can be unique from the ones that you have grown accustomed to. If you want to meet someone on the right foot, it’s best that you at least acquaint yourself with the expectations they usually have when meeting someone for the first time. Also, knowing what to say helps show that you respect and will allow you to establish a stronger connection.
If you are looking for a Korean language school in Singapore that will help you be more proficient in Korean communication, SEJONG Korean Language School is the one that you need. We have only the best teachers and the most effective teaching strategy that you can find across the island.