Koreans are known for their quiet demeanor and impeccable decorum, since they hail from a country steeped in Confucian order and etiquette. You will not be expected to know every detail as a guest, but making an attempt would be much appreciated. The farther you go away from major cities, the more conservative the population becomes.
Koreans are generally accepting to outsiders who are unfamiliar with all of Korea’s traditional traditions. Following these guidelines, however, will impress them:
- When Koreans meet, they bow to express their respect for one another. They may also give each other a handshake. With individuals you know well, a simple nod of the head and annyeong haseyo (), which means “hello” (the exact translation is “do you have peace”) should enough.
- When visiting numerous locations in Korea, it is imperative that you remove your shoes. When visiting someone’s house, it is customary to remove your shoes. Many excellent restaurants (particularly family-owned ones), smaller hospitals, medical clinics, and dentists also need it. Shoes are often left at the front entrance, and indoor slippers may be supplied for use inside.
- When meeting for the first time, older Koreans are likely to inquire about your age, your parents’ occupations, your occupation, and your educational level. If the inquiries make you uncomfortable, simply provide brief replies and attempt to shift the subject as quietly as possible.
- Never bring up your criminal past, or the criminal history of someone to whom you are connected, in conversation or in jest. Even if the offense is considered trivial in your own country, Koreans are likely to have an unfavorable opinion of you.
- Always use two hands when lifting anything up or taking something from someone older. If you just have one hand available, you may support your right arm using your left. Similarly, when shaking hands with someone older, use your left hand to support your right arm.
- When handing and receiving business cards, always use both hands, like in neighboring nations.
- Koreans, in general, have strong patriotic beliefs and would react with different degrees of animosity to any criticism of their country. To avoid rubbing your hosts the wrong way, it’s best to laud the nation or, at the very least, avoid bringing up anything unpleasant about it.
- Avoid bringing up the Japanese occupation, Dokdo Island, the early 1950s Korean conflict, or US foreign policy, or participate in any political conversations (unless specifically requested). It’s better to remain impartial and avoid any arguments if your hosts bring it up.
- Make no effort, even in joke, to praise North Korea. On the other hand, since North Koreans are still referred to as “brother Koreans” and you are a foreigner, don’t go out of your way to criticize them.
- South Korean homes often have stringent recycling rules: for example, one bin may be designated only for paper, while another in the kitchen may be designated solely for food/drink containers. Also keep in mind that each Korean district has its own recycling program! Garbage bags must be bought from a supermarket and must be of the kind specified by your local municipality.
- When eating with Koreans, never pour your own drink; instead, take the effort to pour for others. When eating with Koreans, it is customary for the oldest to eat first.
- In restaurants, it is usual to hear people speak loudly as a show of happiness and enjoyment of the meal. However, remember to be kind to elderly folks, particularly at the table. Making a loud noise in front of an elderly person is considered impolite in Korea.
- Koreans, like their Chinese and Japanese neighbors, put a high value on “preserving face.” To prevent severe humiliation, it is recommended that you should not call out the errors of others unless you are in a position of seniority.
- Although there are some parallels between Korean culture and that of nearby China and Japan, keep in mind that Koreans are passionately proud of their own culture and that national comparisons should be avoided.
Religion in South Korea has evolved significantly through time, with both Buddhism and Christianity, which are today’s major faiths, having been persecuted for millennia. Today, slightly under half of Koreans claim to be unaffiliated with any religion. There are almost no conflicts between the various sects, and religion is generally seen as a personal decision.
Buddhism was traditionally Korea’s primary religion (though it was often repressed in favor of Chinese Confucianism), and Buddhist temples are popular tourist destinations all throughout the country. Buddhist Swastikas are shown on religious structures, as they are in many Asian countries. You’ll note that they’re drawn backwards from the one used in Nazi Germany, and they have nothing to do with antisemitism. When visiting Buddhist temples, be courteous by refraining from making excessive noise, eating, or drinking.
South Korea has a very high percentage of Christians (primarily Protestants (18%) and Roman Catholics (11%) ) and churches can be found virtually everywhere in the nation, which is unique in East Asia and due to the American occupation during the Korean War. South Korean Christians are often conservative and evangelical, sending a significant number of evangelical Protestant missionaries overseas (rivalling the United States in this regard). It is normal for strangers and acquaintances to invite you to their church, and it is generally not taken personally if you refuse.
Since ancient times, Korean Shamanism, also known as Muism, has been the indigenous religion of the Korean people. Despite the fact that it is practiced by fewer than 1% of South Koreans today, its traditions and ideas are well-known and, to some degree, still performed by many, having been integrated into Christian and Buddhist ceremonies.
Throughout Korea’s history, Confucianism has been pushed as the national religion, and although there are few followers today, the majority of Koreans are acquainted with its doctrines and customs, and even government employees are obliged to take Confucian exams.
Although the government does not recognize same-sex partnerships, there are no laws against homosexuality in South Korea. In bigger cities, gay clubs and pubs abound, but openly expressing your sexual orientation in public is still likely to be frowned upon. There are many evangelical Christians in South Korea who are fiercely opposed to homosexuality. Nonetheless, assaults against homosexual individuals, both verbal and physical, are uncommon.
Holding hands with a same-sex love partner, on the other hand, is frequent among platonic displays of physical affection between same-sex friends, especially when alcohol has been consumed.