South Korea: Cultural Etiquette

people

The People

Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, racially and linguistically. It has its own culture, language, dress and cuisine, separate and distinct from its neighboring countries. Hard work, filial piety and modesty are characteristics esteemed by Koreans. They are proud of their traditional culture and their modern economic success. Education is highly valued as the path to status, money and success.

Meeting and Greeting

  • The bow is the traditional Korean greeting, although it is often accompanied by a handshake among men. To show respect when shaking hands, support your right forearm with your left hand.
  • Korean women usually nod slightly and will not shake hands with Western men. Western women may offer their hand to a Korean man.
  • Bow when departing. Younger people wave (move their arm from side to side).

Names and Titles

Korean new year


new year

Korean New Year, commonly known as Seol-nal, is the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the most important of the traditional Korean holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year’s Day. Koreans also celebrate solar New Year’s Day on January 1 each year, following the Gregorian Calendar. On the day of Seollal, everyone gets up early, puts on their best clothes, children wish their elders  (grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents) a happy new year by performing one deep traditional bow and the words saehae bok mani badeuseyo  which translates to Receive many New Year blessings, or more loosely, “Have a blessed New Year.” Parents typically reward this gesture by giving their children new year’s money, or “pocket money,” (usually in the form of crisp paper money) in luck bags made with beautiful silk design and offering words of wisdom, deokdam. Historically, parents gave out rice cakes (ddeok) and fruit to their children instead. Before and during the bowing ceremony, children wear hanboks as a respectful way to appreciate ancestors and elders. This activity is called Sebae.

Many traditional games are associated with the Korean New Year. The traditional family board game yunnori  is still a popular game nowadays. Yut Nori (Yunnori) is a traditional board game played in Korea, especially during Korean New Year. It is played using different types of specially designed sticks. Traditionally men and boys would fly rectangle kites called yeonnalligi, and play jegi chagi, a game in which a light object is wrapped in paper or cloth, and then kicked in a footbag like manner. Korean women and girls would have traditionally played neolttwigi, a game of jumping on a seesaw , and gongginolie, game played with five little gonggi (originally a little stone, but today many buy manufactured gongi in shops) while children spin paengi .