Korean Etiquette

Korean Etiquette

When Meeting and Greeting

  • When greeting and leaving an elder Korean always bow. Put your feet together, arms by your side and bend from the waist with eyes down.
  • Many South Koreans shake hands with expatriates after the bow, thus blending both cultural styles.
  • Whilst bowing greet the person verbally.
  • The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status, yet it is the most senior person who initiates the handshake.
  • Do not squeeze hard when shaking hands.
  • Always wait to be introduced at a social gathering.
  • When you leave a social gathering, say good-bye and bow to each person individually.
  • Koreans avoid using the word ‘NO’, so the word ‘YES’ in actual fact may not mean YES.
  • Never talk about Korean culture, even if it is complimentary, in earshot of a Korean

 The most basic and common greeting is an-nyung-ha-se-yo (안녕하세요) which means hello.  There is no separate greeting for good morning, good afternoon or good evening.  Whether it’s the morning, afternoon or evening, you just use the phrase an-nyung-ha-se-yo (안녕하세요).


Body Language


  • Never ever touch, pat or backslap a Korean, unless they are a relative or close friend.
  •  Always pass and accept things with your right hand, with your left hand underneath your elbow. The further towards the wrist your left hand the closer the relationship between the people.
  • To beckon someone, extend your arm palm down, and move your fingers in a scratching motion.
  • Never point with your index finger.
  • When expressing a light apology, like for stepping on someone’s foot by mistake, one can apologize by extending a small 15 degree bow.


Gift Giving Etiquette

The exchange of gifts is an important part of Korean life, closely linked to showing respect, keeping good kibun and being courteous. If you ever visit a Korean home

always take a gift of fruit, flowers, wine or liquor.  Also a gift for the most elderly person, a grandparent for instance, would also be considered courteous. The gift is presented to the recipient with both hands as are most items handed over by or to a Korean – even in the office or at a shop. A Korean will usually make an apology for the gift’s unimportance, even when it is of high value. Gifts are never opened in front of the provider. In fact, visitor sometimes quietly leave a gift for the host to find later.

The wrapping of a gift is very important in Korea, sometimes how the gift looks on the outside is almost more important than the item itself. Don’t be offended, though, if they don’t or if they never mention the gift to you.

    • Never refuse a gift, a Korean would be very insulted.
    • When accepting a gift or giving a gift always use two hands.
    • It is thoughtless to give someone an expensive gift if you know that they cannot afford to give back accordingly.
    • The number 4 is considered unlucky, so gifts should not be given in multiples of 4. However giving 7 of an item is considered lucky.
    • Wrap gifts in red or yellow paper, since these are royal colours. Alternatively, use yellow or pink paper since they denote happiness.  . . Do not wrap gifts in green, white, or black paper.

Dining Etiquette

    • Always remove your shoes before entering a Koreans house.
    • Always agree to your host to seat you. The seat of honour is the seat looking at the front door, and if you are seated there, it is polite to protest slightly.
    • The host pours the drinks for the highest ranking person present first and then in order. The elders are always served first.
    • The most senior person is the one who starts the eating process, the rest can then follow.
    • It is polite to pass or accept food or drink with your right hand while your left hand supports your forearm/wrist.
    • Never point your chopsticks or pierce your food with them.
    • Chopsticks should be returned to the table after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest.
    • Never pick up food with your hands. Fruit should be speared with a toothpick.
    • Bones and shells should be put on the table or an extra plate.
    • Try a little bit of everything. It is acceptable to ask what something is.
    • Refuse the first offer of second helpings.Finish everything on your plate.
    • Indicate you are finished eating by placing your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Never place them parallel across your rice bowl.
    • The person who invites the party usually pays the bill for everyone. However, it is polite to offer to pay.
    •  Never discuss money in front of a higher grade as it is an embarrassment.
    • When two people are dining, usually the younger person pays for the older person.