Customs & Oddities, Seoul
When visiting Seoul, be prepared to climb stairs, to get to the other side of the street, you ll often have to take an overpass pedestrian bridge or use a subway underpass.
Thank goodness, they have escalators in the subways though.
Korean language was invented by a Korean Emperor. His inspiration came from the structure of the ancient window. In Mandarin, it is known as 'Chuan Kou Wen Zi'. Some simple greetings and phrases are as follows. You can try using them on your next trip to Korea.
How are you? - Anyong haseyo?
Yes - Ne
No - Aniyo
How much is this? - Igo olma eyo?
That's too expensive! - Nomu pisayo!
Can I have that? - Jeogo kachodo teyo?
Thank you - Kamsamnida
Before coming to Korea, I heard quite a bit about the industriousness of the people. I saw lots of proof! Shopping can be done 24/7. There are malls that oven about 10am and don't close until 5am!!! The are also night markets. A shopper's paradise!
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Even non-verbal communication is widely different between East and West. Americans, for example, use a virtual carnival of facial expression and hand gestures that Koreans often find amusing. The wink, that wonderfully simple and versatile method of communicating at least five different meanings, is not naturally part of Korean culture, and the sight of it usually tickles Koreans and produces broad smiles. The rapid raising and lowering of the eyebrows, to show interest, is another non-verbal cue that can induce laughter from a surprised Korean onlooker. Tongues in cheek, rolling of the eyes, and licking of the lips, among others, are all foreign to this country. Still others, such as nodding the head up and down for yes and sideways to mean no, pushing out the bottom lip to show disappointment, pursing the lips to display anger, and an inquiring raise of the eyebrows are similar to both cultures. Hand gestures may also provide some examples of cultural contrasts. The Korean gesture for money is demonstrated by connecting the thumb and index finger, to form a circle, with the other three fingers pointed downward. Americans signal money by quickly rubbing the thumb across the tips of the four fingers, palm up. The shrug of the shoulders, with the head tilted to one side to communicate, 'I don't know,' has no equal in Korea. The index finger placed perpendicular to the lips, signifies 'Be Silent,' in both cultures but can also mean 'Keep a secret' to Americans. But the title of this section refers to a much deeper form of non-verbal communication involving recognizing and sharing emotions. Western culture knows it in the form of empathy that comes from long-term association with another, like a close relative or spouse. Most married couples have probably experienced a situation where one spouse knows what the other will say before it is spoken, or when one spouse can predict the other¡¯s reaction before a response actually occurs. With a little effort one spouse can probably feel as the other feels, in certain circumstances, even though the other never expresses that feeling verbally. That type of empathy, while reserved for more intimate relationships in the West, is much more common in casual interpersonal contact in Korea. The term describing the ability to discern and interpret these feelings non-verbally is 'nunchi.' This skill becomes a powerful tool in ensuring harmony in interpersonal relations by effectively reading another's feelings. Once this skill is developed, a large portion of routine communication can transpire without a word or so much as a raised eyebrow. People can learn to feel each other's mood routinely. Communication requires participants to focus on non-verbal behavior that provides clues to inner feelings. Foreigners must use care, when listening and observing, not to screen out behavior they should be examining and interpreting. Westerners who rely on detailed and repetitive verbal communication to feel comfortable understanding another's mood can be confused in Korea where much interpersonal communication is conducted non-verbally. Conversely, Koreans typically do not understand why Westerners insist on verbal communication in situations better conveyed non-verbally. For example, Koreans may wonder why Westerners must continuously say 'I love you' to make a partner sure of their intimate feelings. Many Koreans believe such emotion is more sincerely communicated non-verbally. Again, the example used in a previous section seems appropriate: if a spouse is moping around the house, Westerners would tend to question what is wrong and try to resolve it verbally. Koreans, on the other hand, might detect the bad feelings and try to cheer up the person with a gift of flowers or an act of kindness, without discussion. While understanding the unspoken is certainly a challenge, it's a skill that pays big dividends for foreigners who can develop and utilize it effectively while working in Korea.
Always hand to and receive things from other people using two hands.
Bowing is also polite, like a handshake in western culture. If you shake hands with a Korean person it shows respect to use both hands, or shaking with the right hand and touching your own upper right arm with the left at the same time. The higher up your own arm you touch the more respect you show.
If you look like a foreigner you are not really expected to know the customs. However, most Koreans are very appreciative of a foreigner who attempts to learn and use the language, customs, etc.
One unique point about Korean ladies is that they will always put on their make-up whenever they leave their house. They see it as a basic politeness. Heard from my local guide that some of them would wear their make-up on before waking up their husbands every morning. Wonder if its true. Perhaps Koreans out there can let me know. Thanks.
When in Seoul or South Korea, always remember to take off your shoes when entering someone's home. Also, never putyour chopsticks in your rice so that they are sticking up out of your bowl as this is considered very rude. Do not put money down on a counter...put it in the other person's hands, preferably using 2 hands. And if by chance you need to write someone's name....never do it in red ink! This means that you wish them harm!
Travelling in Seoul is relatively safe. People there don't vandalize and aren't into theft, but be careful just the same. The major inconvenience I experienced when living there, was being followed at night by drunken men! I think it is more of a curiosity than anything, but girls travelling alone shoudl be careful.
Oh yes, and be prepared to be stared at (A LOT) if you are not of Korean descent!!! Staring there is not rude, so expect it! And be prepared to get pushed and shoved, especially in crowded subways....shoving is not rude....it's a means of getting by people! So don't take offence!
Here are some tips about korean manners:
1. Greeting and saying 'thank you' are very important to Koreans. Words of Greeting and thanks are always said with a bow of the head. The depth of the bow depends on the relative seniority of the two speakers.
2. Korean do not appreciate an overly outgoing style and they generally limit direct physical contact to courteous handshake. As one gets to know koreans better, a greater familiarity becomes possible.
3. There are many clean public restrooms (toilets) in the office throughot Korea. It is also acceptable to use the toilets in office buildings, restaurants, shops or hotels.
4. Korean sit, eat and sleep on the floor, so shoes are always removed when entering a korean home. Bare feet are considered an affront in front of elders, so it is the best to wear socks or stockings when visiting families.
5. Young koreans are accustomed to 'going Dutch' but in general it is common to be either host or guest.
6. It is traditionally regarding unpolite to talk during a meal, however, nowadays Koreans are encouraged to talk, to laugh during the meal. Real appreciation of the food and service is gratefully recieved. It is inpolite to blow your nose at the table.
gosh, dont except people to say, i'm sorry or excuse me when they bump into you. but then dont allow yourself to become like that. if you do apologize, people will think that you a bit odd but its OK, be nice even though the people there naturally arent in those situations. if you visibly are a foreigner, except to get stared at but dont take it personally.
And please respect the old people there and bow to them when acknowledging them.
Compared to Koreans, Americans are very casual when speaking with people unfamiliar to them. Like many other languages, the form of Korean speech/language goes from very informal to very formal. The younger generation is a bit more accepting of different customs and cultures--there are very inquisitive and curious, so try not to be offended when a question, which may come across very frank and tactless, is meant to be a friendly exchange. The younger generation is more accepting of public displays of emotions. However, there are other old-fashioned conservative individuals. To this day, Korea is very homophobic--there is a sizeable gay and lesbian population, most of which is in ITAEWON (near the US Army Base). Koreans dress more formal than Americans. Even during the humid hot summers, Korean men (young and old) continue to wear long pants. Women have a bit more flexibility--sometimes a bit too much. As Korea's population is homogenous, there remains a 'trend-based' culture. Individuality is starting to emerge, however there are many Koreans whom dress just like the person next to them. When shopping, people of thin frame small feet tend to fare best. A 'small' in Korea would be an 'extra small' in the U.S. (U.S. sizes 0-4), medium (4-6), large (6-8 or 10). Larger sizes may get lucky, but you'll have to look harder. For shoes, a size 8 (American) tends to be the largest size stores sell for women. You can order shoes to be made, they don't cost any more than what you'd pay if you had been able to purchase it on the spot. Men probably have more selection. The only other place that may cater to larger individuals is ITAEWON--land of knock-offs. When it comes to eating, Koreans do not tip, unless you are dining at a hotel. As with most other activities, many Koreans wait for the eldest to take the first bite. At a traditional Korean home, it may be common for (the older) Koreans to burp, on ocassion, during a meal. Although burping is accepted, sneezing/blowing your nose in front of others is considered rude. If you have to blow your nose, excuse yourself and go somewhere where they can barely hear you. Also, Koreans will usually knock before entering places, such as toilet stalls or one's office. If in a toilet, and you do not knock back or respond, the person will assume that it is not occupied and attempt to open the door. Koreans, particularly those residing in Seoul, can be pushy, aggressive and at times frustrating, especially if you come from a small town or suburb. If you're there for a while, as I was, you will get into that mode and be just as brisk, if not more. You will experience this with drivers (there is no concept of driving in the designated lanes) and walkers (although they do wait for the pedestrian light to flash 'go') bumping in and out of foot traffic. Although Korean society is constantly changing, there still exists a hierarchy--and this is apparent in most activities. For example, when eating and drinking with elders, it is common to offer (and pour) drinks to those older. However, one of the benefits is that the older individual usually pays. Koreans are very generous to visitors and guests--it is extremely important that they be good hosts.
After World Cup games featuring Korea, everyone tends to get dragged into the celebrations. Try learning the main two chants of the Korean fans.
1) Tae ha mingo (Not the right spelling but that is how I pronounce it)
2) Pissung Korea
Yes, I found bowing very common and was surprised that even I, a white clueless foreigner was exposed to this practice. It is a show of respect and I simply bowed back slightly with a nod of the head, ackowledging the gesture. It is best to bow back from what I was told.
People in Korea are very friendly even they dont know what you are talking about(either u speak English or Cantonese). Men usually hug and walk in the street, i think it is their culture, and doesnt mean they are gays...
1) Don't be mad when people touch you and never say 'I am sorry.' You know if you are living in a crowded city like Seoul, it is hardly impossible to be somewhere without bumping into someone. But in that case, we Koreans usually don't say 'I am sorry.' since it's happening all the time. But I know that foreigners think that Koreans are rude because of that. So, please understand this if you are facing it.
2) I think you would be better to know some basic Koreans.
Hello! = 'An-nyung-ha-se-yo! or An-nyung.'
Thank you! = 'Gam-sa-hab-ni-da.'
How much? = 'Earl-ma-ye-yoh?'
Where is...? = '.... o-di-ye-yo?'
Subway = 'Jun-Cheol'
Learn Korean little bit before starting your trip. If you speak Korean a little to Koreans, they will fell you respect Korea nad it's culture.
EX> An-Nyoung-Ha-Se-Yo---> Hi, Hello!
Ko-Map-Sum-Ni-Da ---> Thank you.