Korean Customs - Respect

Respect for others according to seniority is a pillar of Korea's Confucianist traditions. Seniority is based on age, position in the family, job position, being a teacher, and the list goes on.

  • When drinking with a much older person, it is customary to turn your head away to take a drink. Some Koreans may feel strange about a foreigner doing so, and they will tell you if that's the case.
  • If you are smoking while walking along and you approach an older person, either hide or put out your cigarette. Korean teens that smoke typically do so in stairways and basement levels of buildings, away from adult's eyes. To westerners it seems sexist, but Korean women who smoke are seen as women of loose morals (if you get my meaning).
  • Koreans believe that direct eye contact during conversation shows boldness, and out of politeness they concentrate on the conversation, usually avoiding eye-to-eye contact.
  • Out of respect for the elderly, young people usually give up their seats for an aged person on a crowded bus or subway train. Nowadays some young people do not but most still do. Most Koreans wouldn't expect a foreigner to do this, but if you do it will make you look like a well-mannered guest in their country.
  • Koreans shake hands and bow at the same time. The depth of the bow depends on the relative seniority of the two people.
  • When you receive something (a present, a cup, a pen, etc.) from an older person, you should use two hands when receiving it, with a bow. If it's small enough for one hand, use one hand to receive it and the other under your forearm or your lower chest (for support). When you are shaking hands with an older person, use two hands. If the person receiving the gift is younger or lower in stature, passing with one hand is acceptable.
  • Confucian tradition also demands that the elderly be treated at all times with the utmost respect. When elders are present, young Koreans would never lounge around, wear sunglasses, or expect to eat first.
  • Relationships with friends are the one area where Koreans can view each other as equals. Friends, however, really means those born the same year who are, therefore, the same age and capable of being equal.
  1. General
  2. Respect
  3. Marriage
  4. Dining