It is well known that French and Korean culture are very different from each other, and so are the customs. You should know that some habits or gestures which seem very natural or polite for us are absolutely not interpreted the same way in Korea. So before leaving, here are some tips to be aware of in order to not start a diplomatic war.
Of course, Korean people are very friendly and welcoming and even if we make mistakes, we are quickly forgiven as « we are Westerners ». This does not prevent us to learn some habits of The Land of Morning Calm before going there.
You will probably meet wonderful people, meet up with a penpal or stay in a host family. Anyway you will have to interact with Koreans, eat with them and maybe even giving a gift to thank some them, so you need to know these:
1. It is a principle in Korea to not open a present in front of the one who gave it to you. Don’t be offended if the present is not immediately opened in front of you.
2. Whether we offer or receive a gift: same rule! It is better to give/receive the present with both hands. It is considered as rude not to do so.
Around the table
1. It is impolite to start a meal before the oldest person among you at the table.
2. Unlike some Asian countries, it is discourteous to carry your dish or bowl to your mouth. Let them put down on the table.
3. Do not stick your chopsticks into your rice bowl, it reminds very much of funeral incenses.
4. Do not comment on food nor smell it before eating it.
5. For noodles dishes, do not be offended if people around you slurp their noodles (we really hate that in France). This is usual in Korea.
6. Do not take anything with your hands, except for salad leaves to put rice or meat inside for example.
7. Around the table, it is very rude to blow your nose in front of others, you should sniff or pat your nose with a tissue. (It is also better to avoid doing it in public).
8. It is not very polite to pour yourself alcohol, you must serve the older people among you and wait for someone to pour you a glass with both hands.
1. When you meet someone for the first time, it is polite to bow slightly to greet him/her.
2. When you talk with a local that you don’t know, be polite however do not overdo it, otherwise your conversation partner will feel uncomfortable.
3. Do not thank a person all the time and “you’re welcome” isn’t said in Korean.
4. Do not fix someone in the eyes or at least not for a long time.
At someone’s place
1. You must take off your shoes when going into someone’s house.
2. Do not stay at the threshold, it is said it lets the spirits enter.
On the streets and public transportation
1. In the streets, do not get offended or angry if you have been pushed and nobody apologizes. In Korea, they only apologize when it is serious. For example, if someone pushed you and you tripped, then he/she will apologize.
2. In public places, you should avoid effusion of joy or anger. It is not well seen to show too much emotions or being noisy in public.
3. In the subway, please be careful to the places reserved for disabled or elderly people. It is impolite to sit down even if only these places remain available.
4. You will notice it but public transports are very clean, be careful to respect this cleanliness.
1. If you write a letter or a card to someone, do not use red ink to write his/her name, it reminds of funerals.
Of course, people change and evolve, some of these practices disappeared … However, it is necessary to know and apply them especially if you are in company of elderly people.
Traduction d'Elyna pour Bonjour Corée.