Korean Customs - In General

  • You will see teenage boys walking in the street with their arms around each other's shoulders and teenage girls walking hand-in-hand. This means nothing more than intimacy. Touching close friends while talking to them is perfectly acceptable in Korea. Koreans will touch any children to show their warm affection. This is a compliment to let the child know how cute he is. Bumping into other people while passing is acceptable unless you shove them offensively.
  • Take off your shoes when entering someone's home. There is usually a shelf or ample space for every guest's shoes.
  • The family is the most important part of Korean life. In Confucian tradition, the father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to approve marriages or moves by family members. The eldest son has special duties including first his parents, then his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters. Family welfare is much more important than the individual.
  • There are many family rituals tied to Confucian tradition. You might see a string of dried red peppers hung across an entrance to a Korean home. These signify the birth of a boy within a week.
  • Because 60 years is considered a cycle in the Asian Zodiac, a large birthday celebration is held for those who turn 60 years of age. In the past, living to the age of 60 also exceeded the average life expectancy in Korea. It is also an age when a man can retire and let his sons support him.
  • The number four is considered unlucky. It is treated the same way as the number 13 in western countries -- no 13th floor, etc. This stems from the Korean syllables derived from Chinese characters. Two of those, 四(four) and 死 (death), are pronounced the same - 사 (sah).
  • Writing a person's name in red ink is tantamount to saying they are dead or will die soon.
  • Large outdoor markets can be found throughout Korea. Spirited bargaining goes on as the buyer hopes to pay the lowest prices for food, clothing, shoes, and cooking supplies.
  • In Korea, the surname (family name) is given first. First names are seldom used in addressing another because of the social hierarchy established by Confucianism. Addressing a person by title or position is most correct. These include 선생님 (sunsaengnim - teacher) or 박사 (paksa - doctor). Individuals who have achieved this title are given high respect because highest respect is deserved for scholars in the Confucian tradition.
  • While women are not as secluded at home as they once were, it is still unusual for women to join their husbands for a night on the town. Many women are earning university degrees, but the care of the family is still considered most important.
  • Gift giving is an important part of Korean tradition. Gifts might be given to cultivate a personal relationship, before conducting business, or to encourage aid from someone in a position above. A return gift or favor is usually expected. Koreans seldom open a gift in public. The recipient may put your gift aside without opening it in consideration of not to embarrass you at the smallness of the gift. They'll open it if you politely ask them to.
  1. General
  2. Respect
  3. Marriage
  4. Dining