Cultura-On-the-Go: Meeting and Greeting Locals in South Korea

Jun 22, 2023
Meeting and Greeting Locals in South Korea

For many who grew up in countries that inherited Western European cultures extending the right hand when greeting comes naturally. However, a handshake is not always common in many other parts of the world. For instance, Tibetan monks will stick out their tongues. In the Arab Gulf, you may see men bumping their noses. Go to South America, and you may get an air kiss. In some Southern African cultures, women clap their hands when they greet you. 

There are certain cultures where you greet people according to their age, with the elders going first. As you can see, greeting etiquette is so different across the world that it can be a huge challenge to know what to do when you meet people from different cultures. Worry not if you often find yourself in this situation or are involved in helping others land softly in foreign lands; at CulturaGo, our courses will ensure everyone arrives at their foreign destination knowing precisely what to do. 

In this Cultura-On-the-Go post, we’re heading over to South Korea. Read on if you want to know what to do when you meet and greet locals in South Korea.

Meeting and Greeting Locals in South Korea

Module 3: Korean Customs and Etiquette

If you’ve watched South Korean series or movies, you probably know that bowing is the traditional greeting in South Korea. Shaking hands is also common, especially in professional settings, but it’s always accompanied by a bow. Using the correct etiquette for bowing and terms of address is essential for politeness and makes a great first impression.

You will notice that when people bow, they clasp their hands on the front and look down. It’s common for men also to have their hands on their hips. Always remember to bow with the waist and not the neck. It may take practice to keep your back straight while bending your waist. Image by Kampus Production (Pexels). 

You may have noticed that when South Koreans bow, they don't always do so with the same depth; sometimes, the bow is about 30 degrees, and sometimes about 45 degrees. So, what determines how deep you bow? The 30-degree bow is most appropriate when meeting someone for business or a superior you don’t regularly see. The 45-degree bow is reserved for showing the sincerest gratitude or apology.

William gives us insight into bowing etiquette and how it differs when meeting different members of society.

Names and titles are important when addressing someone in South Korea. When addressing people in the business setting, it’s expected that you address them using their titles and family names. Superiors should always be addressed using their title. Of course, you can always use the first name when interacting with friends or colleagues that have specifically invited you to do so.

In South Korean etiquette, business cards are important. When you receive one, you should do so with both hands. You may be considered rude if you write anything on the business card in front of the person who gave it to you. Treat the card with reverence by carefully placing it in your wallet or pocket.

When meeting someone for the first time in South Korea, don’t be offended if they ask questions related to personal details; they want to know how to treat you. If you don’t know someone well, avoid physical affection, as it may be viewed as a violation of personal space.

We hope you enjoyed our mini-lesson on meeting and greeting locals in South Korea. We believe that you can’t have too much of a good thing. So, we have a lot more for you. Click here to enroll in the Introduction to Korean Culture course. 

Now that you know how to meet and greet people in Korea, check out our previous mini-lessons on Making Friends in Spain, Being a Non-Asian Foreigner in Japan, and Wellness and Health in the UK.   

Check out our Partner page and see how integrating CulturaGo online cultural preparation courses into your program can help you take things to a whole new level.


CulturaGo. Keep Learning. Keep Connecting. 



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