Dos and Don’ts

The plethora of global fast food franchises, ubiquitous international fashions and the hi-tech look of the city might convince you that Seoul is “just another international metropolis.” It isn’t. Despite the external trappings, Koreans have a strongly inculcated social culture that often differs from Western norms.

English: Although Koreans study English religiously, it is often difficult to find anyone who speaks it; for reasons of face, many refuse unless they feel they can do it near perfectly. If you encounter communication problems, call the international help line, tel. 82 2 1300.

Dress Code: The torn and faded look never really caught on here, and anything too outré will probably be frowned upon. Smart casual is probably the best look.

Smoking: Koreans are heavy smokers, and most local restaurants and bars allow smoking.

Eating: Korean dining is refreshingly informal, though you will need to learn to use chopsticks. Many restaurants have floor seating, so wear laundered and darned socks since you’ll be dining shoeless. If unsure of eating etiquette, simply observe what everyone else does. Loud slurping—even a satisfied belch—is not considered rude.

Drinking: Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable and in business, actively encouraged as a bonding practice. Do not pour your own. Others will do this for you; if you notice an empty glass, you should return the favor. Use both hands to pour and receive. Attitudes toward public drunkenness are more tolerant than in the West, but drunken driving is a crime.

Singing: If Koreans take you out for an evening, at some point, it is inevitable that a karaoke norae bang (song room) will be visited. It’s a good idea to practice a number or two (classic English language songs are available on all machines); a butchered attempt at Tom Jones will be more appreciated than a straight refusal to join in.

Pushing and Shoving: In Korean social culture, if people do not know you, they have no obligations toward you, which manifests itself in much pushing and shoving on crowded streets, buses, and subways. Take it in good form. However, foreigners are strongly advised not to attempt to drive in Seoul.

Phrase Book

Annyong haseyo: Hello. Pronounced ahn-young ha-say-yo.

Annyonghi kyesayo: Goodbye (said to a person staying). Pronounced ahn-young-hee-kay-say-yo.

Annyonghi kasayo: Goodbye (said to a person who is leaving). Pronounced ahn-young hee-ka-say-yo.

Pangapsumnida!: Pleased to meet you! (Usually stated when shaking hands.) Pronounced pan-gup-sum-mee-da.

….olmayo?: How much is this….? (useful in markets). Pronounced ol-may-yay-yo.

…chuseyo: Please give me …. Pronounced chew-say-yo.

Yogiyo!: Over here! (used to hail a server in restaurants). Pronounced ya-gee-yo.

Ajoshi: Sir (used when addressing a man whose name you do not know). Pronounced a-zo-see.

Ajummah: Ma’am (used when addressing a woman whose name you do not know). Pronounced a-zoo-ma.

Agashi: Miss (used when addressing a girl/unmarried woman whose name you do not know). Pronounced a-ga-see.

Hakseng: Student (used when addressing a teen whose name you do not know). Pronounced hak-sing.

Kamsahamnida: Thank you. Pronounced cum-sa hum-needa.

Mianhamnida: I am sorry. (For example, after bumping into someone in a crowded elevator or subway car.) Pronounced mee-an hum-needa.

Yeongeorul malsum halsu isseoyo?: Do you speak English? Pronounced young-o-rool mal-sum hall-soo a-say-yo.

… ka-chuseyo. Please go to… (Use to direct taxi drivers.) Pronounced (place name) ay ka-ju-say-yo.


About Seoul and South Korea

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