Cultural Awareness

Etiquette and dining
Although many of the Koreans with whom you come into contact will be familiar with American habits and mannerisms, the traditional values are still strong.

Koreans shake hands and bow at the same time. The depth of the bow depends on the relative seniority of the two people.

When passing a gift, or any other object to someone, use both hands with bow. The right hand is used to pass the object, while the left is used in support. If the person receiving the gift is younger or lower in stature, passing with one hand is acceptable.

Koreans believe that direct eye contact during conversation shows boldness, and out of politeness they concentrate on the conversation, usually avoiding eye-to-eye contact.

You will see young men walking in the street with their arms around each other's shoulders and women walking hand-in-hand. This means nothing more than intimacy. Touching close friends while talking to them is perfectly acceptable in Korea. Koreans will touch any children to show their warm affection. This is a compliment to let the child know how cute he is. Touching other people while passing is mostly understood unless you shove him offensively.

If you attend a wedding or funeral, it's customary to take a white envelope containing a sum of money. Handing cash to someone is considered rude except when paying a shopkeeper for merchandise.

Dinner in a traditional Korean home or restaurant is quite different from American-style dining. Guests sit on cushions around a low table. Many different foods are served, each cut into bite-sized pieces. Each person has his own bowl of rice, but helps himself to other foods directly from the serving dishes. Koreans traditionally use chopsticks and a large-bowled spoon, although today forks are also used.

During the meal, rest your chopsticks and spoon on top of a dish. When you finish eating, lay them on the table to indicate that you have completed the meal. Never stick chopsticks or spoons in a bowl of rice; this indicates a worship of the dead. Also, never refill a partially, but not completely empty, glass for the same reason. Don't worry about reaching in front of others or asking for a dish to be passed.

Hostess may put your gift aside without opening it in consideration of not to embarrass you at the smallness of the gift. She'll open it if you politely ask her to.

At a restaurant, "Dutch Treat" is not customary --Koreans just take turns in paying the bills although it is becoming more common among the youth. In most hotels, tips are included in the bill.

Be conscious of Korean customs and etiquette, but don't become obsessed with adopting Korean ways.

Korean culture
Korean culture has blossomed during her long history. Though affected by other Asian cultures, its roots lie deep within the creative Korean psyche, and it has tended to spread rather than be encroached upon. The delicate styling and fine craftsmanship of celadon pottery well illustrates the refinement of the culture, even from as far back as the Three Kingdoms Period.

Korea has also spawned some great inventors; its first printing systems predate Gutenberg's, the famous "Turtle Ship" was the first ever iron-clad battleship, and the Korean alphabet, devised by a group of scholars in the 15th century, was so effective that it remains largely unchanged today. The reasons behind Korea's rapid economic development can be found in this innate creativity.

Three Korean cultural assets to the World Heritage List designated by the UNESCO are Chongmyo Shrine, where memorial services to the Kings of 500-hundred-years history of Chosun Dynasty is held; The Great Changgyong-Pan in Haeinsa Temple, which engraved Buddhist scripture on 80,000 pieces of wooden panels; and Pulguksa Temple and Sokkuram Grotto in Kyongju which was built 1,000-years ago.

Korean names
Koreans place the family name first, and the given personal name second. Family names are traditional clan names and each has a village from which it comes. Thus, there is a difference between Kim who comes from Kyong-ju and Kim who from Kimhae.

The five most frequent names are Kim, Pa(r)k, Lee, Choi (Choe) and Oh. Because of the inconsistencies of translating names from Hangul to Roman characters, spellings of these names vary. For instance, Lee is also spelled in English as Yi and Rhee.

If at all possible, Koreans avoid calling a person directly by his name. Instead they use his title, position, trade, profession, scholastic rank or some honorific form such as "teacher." Parents often are addressed as the equivalent of "Jimmy's mommy" or "Susie's daddy," rather than "Mrs. Kim."

Korean cultural links
Disclaimer: These links take you off the Osan homepage and are provided by organizations within the Korean Government. For more information on these sites, please contact the appropriate agency.

ITT Tours
Includes events, touring destinations throughout the ROK and cultural tours..

Seoul Focus
(Seoul Metropolitan Government)
Find out everything you wanted to know about Seoul, to include entertainment, customs, the weather and the current Won-Dollar exchange rate.

Korean Embassy, Washington, D.C.
Valuable information on visas, worldwide embassy and consulate locations and more!