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Korean Culture & Customs

Not a Korean guy.

Family Guys

  • The family unit is a massive element of Korean society.
  • Actions and behaviors of individual members reflect on the family as a whole.
  • Collective family status and welfare are paramount and much more meaningful than the needs of the individual.
  • Family structure is rigid in Korea. Dad is the breadwinner and provider. Mom traditionally stays at home and looks after the children, focusing on their education, and usually acting as the disciplinarian.
  • Children, especially the eldest son, have a strong obligation to parents who must be honored and heeded.
  • Ancestor worship is also extremely important in Korea and seen as a way to try and pay back some of the debt children owe to their parents. Chusok and New Year's Day are two particular occasions where previous generations are remembered.

Power of Confucianism

  • Confucianism stresses the importance of education in the moral development of an individual.
  • It places people and their relationships to one another into five bonds, ruler to subject, parents to children, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, and friend to friend.
  • Social harmony is thus created by the individual knowing his/her place in society.
  • Quintessential to Confucianism is respect for elders and seniority, duty, loyalty, and candor.

"Mr. Lee this is Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim, this is Mr. Lee."

  • Introductions and meetings are commonly made through a third party, an essential component of good business in Korea.
  • Koreans will go out of their way to help people they trust, both in business and recreation.
  • Communications should be brief and to the point - Koreans prefer nutshell as opposed to waffle.
  • Relationships are formed and nurtured through drinking and eating.
  • Insults and discussion of sensitive issues between newly associated parties are strictly taboo and should only be broached with the introducer.
  • Bow to those of higher status when meeting.
  • Greet people individually, the same applies when saying good-bye.

"I've got your cards marked."

  • The exchange of business cards is a potential minefield requiring meticulous negotiation.
  • Upon receipt of a business card, examine it, muse upon it, and treat it with reverence.
  • Never put the card straight into your wallet or purse without so much as a second glance and do not toss idly aside.
  • In Korea, treatment of business card equals treatment of person.
  • Present business cards with both hands.
  • Writing a person's name in red ink is a no-no.

"No, I couldn't possibly, well if you insist."

  • Before entering a Korean home or restaurant, remove your shoes.
  • Don't charge for the nearest seat, instead wait and allow your host to assign your position at the table.
  • The eldest person eats first.
  • Chopsticks should not be pointed, left sticking out of rice bowls (a funeral ritual), crossed, or left parallel across the rice bowl.
  • When finished, place chopsticks on the table or chopstick rest.
  • Refrain from eating with your hands.
  • Do not pour your own drink although you may pour for others.
  • While your drink is being poured, hold your glass with both hands as a gesture of respect.
  • If drinking with a senior, turn slightly away from him / her when quaffing.
  • Always refuse the first offer of more food.
  • Don't leave anything on your plate.

Riddle me this

  • Kibun can be roughly translated as a person's state of mind.
  • Intrinsic to Korean culture is social harmony, in other words keeping the kibun of others positive and intact.
  • Examples of hurting someone's kibun might be not turning up to a meeting on time, or perhaps shouting at a person of seniority.
  • Koreans are taught not to reveal their true feelings therefore one must attempt to weigh up the other's kibun, the other's state of mind.
  • Nunchi translates as eye measure and centers on assessing another person's kibun in order to preserve and compliment it.
  • Essentially, nunchi is reading between the lines, gauging body language and tone of voice in order to figure out what the other is really saying.

Korean urban legend

  • If you give a boyfriend or girlfriend a pair of shoes, they will leave you.
  • Washing your hair on the day of a big test washes out the memories.
  • If you sleep in a room with a fan on, you might die.
  • Dreaming of pigs is good luck, dreaming of dogs is bad luck.
  • Don't blow a whistle at night or snakes will come.
  • Shake your leg and you shake out the luck.
  • If you are born with big ears, you will be rich!

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