The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos – A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z: SOUTH KOREA
The article ‘Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos for South Korea’ is a brief snapshot of conversation guidelines for South Korea, tips for communicating in South Korea, and strategies for doing business with South Korea to help with understanding the culture in South Korea. It’s important to keep in mind that as we homogenize as a ‘global culture’, cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is the first step when it comes to tips for intercultural communication!
Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book, ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a distinguished Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or professional keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural communication training and cross-cultural training programs. She is a leader in the field of professional public speakers, professional motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers, She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers, and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!
Cultural Tips for South Korea – including some valuable business travel tips for South Korea!
When doing business in South Korea, tone down hand motions and facial expressions when talking or laughing because being too animated or demonstrative is frowned upon.
Keep your voice tone moderate since they generally speak in a soft voice.
Third party introductions are usually preferred, so wait to be introduced to another at gatherings and parties.
South Korean men greet each other with a slight bow, and sometimes an accompanying handshake, while maintaining eye contact. Respect may be added by supporting your right forearm with your left hand during the handshake.
Bow at the beginning and end of a meeting. An exit bow that is longer than the greeting bow is a sign that the meeting went well.
The junior person will initiate the greetings and be the first to bow. The senior person will be the first to offer his hand. A gentle handshake or nod of the head may also be sufficient in business so follow their lead.
While this is slowly changing, women in the South Korean business culture often don’t shake hands. Western men should not try to shake hands with a Korean woman; Western women will usually need to initiate a handshake with Korean men.
Elderly people are highly respected, so it is good manners to greet and speak to them first and spend a few minutes with them. Complimenting an elder’s good health is always appreciated.
Gift-giving is often practiced in a business setting. Good gifts for a first trip include office items with your company logo or something that is commemorative of your home region. Your gift should be of good quality but modestly priced. Use both of your hands when giving or receiving a gift. Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver.
South Koreans may be asked personal questions regarding your age, salary, education, religion, and family life because they think that they can establish rapport by finding common denominators. These questions may also be asked to determine your status–which means everything in South Korean business culture.
Since you will be judged according to your status, your title should be emphasized on your business card. This gives the recipient an idea of your job responsibility and assists him or her in determining the amount of decision-making authority you have.
In this culture, it is considered important to keep business cards in immaculate condition. Investing in a business card case will allow your cards to stay well preserved. Writing on a business card is perceived as a sign of disrespect.
Present your business card with two hands or, at their lead, with your right hand. When you receive another person’s card, carefully examine it and then make a positive remark before putting it in your card case or on a nearby table. Accepting a business card and then immediately stuffing it into your back pocket will be perceived as disrespectful.
Modesty is very important in South Korea. When you are paid a compliment during a conversation, respond by saying that you are not worthy of such praise. It’s best not to acknowledge a compliment by saying “thank you” or you affirm it. However, this should not stop you from complimenting another person, since compliments are still very much appreciated.
South Koreans have an intense pride in their country and a rich sense of its history. Consequently, it is important that you make every effort not to confuse the history and culture with other Asian countries, especially Japan. It’s also best not to bring gifts from Japan or talk about your contacts or travels there.
South Koreans avoid saying, “No”, directly, so answer questions affirmatively in a positive way, even when you have to deliver negative information.
Many forms of physical contact are considered disrespectful. Gestures such as touching someone on the back or on the person’s arm are discouraged. Physical contact is inappropriate with older people, people of the opposite sex, or people who are not good friends or family. However, one exception is that people of the same sex will often hold hands.
Be aware that personal relationships generally take precedence over business. The first meeting should be solely for the purpose of getting to know your counterpart and establishing rapport.
Expect tea to be served at the beginning of the meeting, and make a point of accepting this offering of hospitality. Keep a formal demeanor as long as your counterpart does.
While South Koreans are very formal in personal situations, this is not the case when they are standing in line in public places where pushing and shoving are commonplace.
Like anyone else South Koreans laugh when something is funny however, smiling is also used to mask embarrassment and other feelings of distress. Criticism of any kind should be done in private to avoid “loss of face”.
5 Key Conversation Topics or Gesture Tips
- Eye contact is very important to indicate your sincerity and attentiveness to the speaker
- Talk about South Korea’s economic success and international accomplishments
- Compliment and ask questions about South Korea’s cultural heritage, landmarks, art, and customs
- South Koreans are avid sports enthusiasts — especially when it comes to the Olympics!
- Discuss your personal hobbies – they love kite and kite flying!
5 Key Conversation Topics or Gesture Taboos
- Don’t discuss South Korean or North Korean politics, Socialism, Communism, and the Korean War
- Blowing your nose in public is considered vulgar. If heavily spiced food makes your nose run, get up and move away from the table before blowing your nose.
- Beckoning a person by moving a single finger toward you is considered very rude. Beckon someone by extending your arm palm down and moving your fingers up and down.
- Cover your mouth when yawning or using a toothpick.
- Feet are perceived as dirty and should not touch other people or objects. Men should take care that the soles of their shoes are pointing down. Women are permitted to cross their legs as long as the sole of the shoes don’t point at anyone.
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To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the communication styles of Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book
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