Korean Etiquette

September 25, 2019

Culture

I learned this one the hard way the last time I was in Korea and it’s something that many westerners would totally overlook (as it’s not really in line with our culture). A golden rule to remember when you’re in Korea is that you korean manners1should never refuse a drink or food when it’s offered to you (for free at least). South Koreans love to share their food with foreigners as it’s seen as a symbol of their culture that they take a lot of pride in. When you refuse an offer like this, it’s generally seen as a slap in the face and could make a few locals angry at you or worse – give you the cold shoulder. In a country where few people speak English and the general culture is drastically different from that of most western countries, it’s important to make friends with as many people as you can or at least stay on their good side while you’re their. I once refused a free sample from an elderly gentleman selling street food and when I went back to his store later, he refused to serve me. Which was just strange – but I suppose that’s just how things are there with some people. So it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry and accept the sample with a smile, take a bite and walk on thanking them for the gift. You can spit it out later or throw it away if you don’t want to eat it, but accepting it is crucial to being respectful.

There are so many techniques and tricks out there to help you have better etiquette in your life but the truth is that not all of them are taught. Or at least not in the right time. This can sometimes mean that you’re left with bad habits not because you’re a gross person but because you genuinely were never shown how to do any better. This means that you have to completely unlearn things that you didn’t even know were wrong in an attempt to come korean mannersacross as more civilized to those around you. With there’s something to be said for people being more accepting of things even though they don’t think that they should be done in public. It reminds me of that scene in shrek where Shrek eats the napkin instead of washing his hands with it and everyone laughs at him, but he just didn’t know! Sure, it was embarrassing for him. And that’s what the real dilemma is. If you can spare someone embarrassment, maybe not humiliating the person is more important than their manners. You can teach them better manners in private rather than laughing at them. I think that people don’t realize that they’re being rude most of the time when they are, which you can put down to ignorance but that doe sn’t give you a right to laugh at them and that’s what bothers me most about general etiquette.

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