The Korean Etiquette: A Comprehensive Guide for Expats



Embarking on a journey to South Korea is an exhilarating adventure, and unlocking the nuances of local customs and manners is key to a fulfilling experience. Deeply rooted in Confucian principles, Korean etiquette offers a unique perspective that may differ from what you’re accustomed to. This comprehensive guide goes beyond house hunting in Seoul, providing insights into the subtleties of social norms that will empower you to navigate daily interactions with grace and respect.

1. Respect for Elders (Filial Piety):

In Korea, the reverence for elders is a cornerstone of societal values. When meeting someone older, a slight bow or nod serves as a courteous greeting. Acknowledging gestures like gifts or meals with gratitude is crucial, emphasizing the use of both hands when giving or receiving items to show respect.

2. Removing Shoes Indoors:

Delve into the customary practice of removing shoes when entering someone’s apartment or villa, a tradition upheld in Korean households and certain establishments. Extend your understanding to encompass settings like restaurants and schools, where a no-shoes policy might be in place, making it wise to keep a clean pair of socks handy.

3. Drinking Etiquette:

Korea’s vibrant drinking culture is a social spectacle, and understanding the intricacies is paramount. Politeness dictates receiving a drink from someone older or of higher status with both hands. Uncover discreet sipping techniques, such as turning away slightly and covering your mouth with your hand while drinking. The art of filling others’ glasses, avoiding self-filling, stands as a symbol of camaraderie.

4. Dining Manners:

Venture into the realm of communal dining, a hallmark of Korean meals. Master the use of serving spoons and chopsticks while respecting subtle nuances, like refraining from sticking utensils directly into rice. Embrace the cultural significance of waiting for the eldest or highest-ranking person to start eating and finishing all the food on your plate.

5. Quiet Public Spaces:

Immerse yourself in the importance of maintaining a serene atmosphere in public spaces. Whether on public transportation or in waiting areas, prioritize hushed conversations and the use of headphones when enjoying music or videos. Brief and discreet phone conversations in public spaces contribute to the overall cultural harmony.

6. Bathroom Slippers:

Explore the often-overlooked aspect of bathroom etiquette, where separate slippers are provided for bathroom use in many Korean homes and traditional establishments. The practice of switching to dedicated bathroom slippers and reverting to regular footwear upon exiting is a subtle yet significant aspect of Korean daily life.


As you delve into the intricacies of Korean etiquette, remember that your efforts to understand and respect these customs are genuinely appreciated by the locals. Approach each interaction with an open mind, ready to learn and adapt. This comprehensive guide serves as your key to unlocking the rich tapestry of Korean etiquette, elevating your cultural experience, fostering meaningful connections, and enriching your time in this dynamic and welcoming country.

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