December 16, 2012

Moving Abroad: Korean Etiquette

In my last article, I talked about the range of emotions most people go through after moving to South Korea and living here for about a year. Even though I strongly advocate moving and living abroad, there are still people out there for which living in a different country for a year is too much of a change. It can be a lot of things that get on people’s nerves, though many would just call this a difference of cultures. For example, the food, the work ethic, and even the way people treat others.

For some people, their bodies just never do well with the food or they just don’t like how the foods taste. Some people do not like how spicy Korean food is, especially the side dish kimchi. Kimchi is a common fermented side dish (like pickles) served at any restaurant, and it comes in two major varieties: cabbage, which is the most common type of kimchi, or radish, which is the second most common type. Kimchi is usually flavored with red pepper sauce which can make it very spicy. Very few people are in the middle about this particular food – they either like it a lot or just despise it.

Korean eating etiquette is something that also bothers a lot of westerners as well. Koreans as a whole do not consider it rude to slurp their soup but they do consider it rude to eat with their mouths open (this still happens very regularly). To Americans, this can be especially surprising, because most of us were probably scolded by our mothers and grandmothers not to slurp our soup, because of the fact (it’s an opinion really) that it is very rude.

Also, in Korea, if your boss offers you a glass of alcohol, you are obligated to take or risk losing face in front of your coworkers. Anytime someone, especially your boss, hands you something like a shot glass for alcohol, you take it with both hands and then hold it with both hands to receive the drink. Then take the shot, or at the very least take a small sip, as a sign of respect.

Whether receiving or giving a drink it is proper manners to do so with two hands. If you are pouring a drink for someone, use both hands to hold and pour from the bottle. If receiving a drink from someone hold the glass with two hands. Even if it is a small Soju shot glass.

Let’s say that you are thirsty and you just drank the last of your beer. You know it is bad manners to pour a drink to yourself, and it is also bad manners to blatantly ask someone else to pour you a drink. What do you do?

It is very simple actually – you pick up a beer bottle, and offer to pour a drink for the person sitting beside you. You fill their glass, and then they in turn will fill your glass up.

Some of the eating rules seem like respectable common sense, like the eldest member at the table eats first. That is really simple enough.

One thing that is different compared to other Asian countries like Japan and China is that Koreans do not pick up their rice bowl to eat, but it is acceptable to use a spoon to eat rice. While this is alright in Korea, it is frowned upon in the previous countries mentioned.

The Good: Korea has a different set eating of etiquettes, but they are very simple to learn.

Image Credit: andrea michele piacquadio / Shutterstock

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