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Etiquette and Respect

South Korea - Etiquette and Respect

Korea is a land of strict Confucian hierarchy and etiquette. As a visitor you will not be expected to know every nuance, but making an effort will certainly be appreciated.

When Koreans greet, they bow to each other to show their respect, but this is usually not the case today, for like Western countries, people shake hands as a form of greeting.

When picking something up or taking something from somebody older always use two hands. If you have to reach to get it and this is not possible, you can simply support your right arm with your left hand. Likewise, when shaking hands with somebody older support your right arm with your left hand.

It is also customary that you must take off your shoes in the house and also in many traditional restaurants.

As with anywhere, politics is a poor topic of conversation. In particular, bringing up the Japanese occupation, the Korean war of the early 1950s and US foreign policy, as these delicate topics are certain to get you on someone's bad side and can led to intense debates. Also, Koreans are particularly proud of their cuisine, and do not welcome criticism of it.

In addition, even though it may be true, one should avoid associating Koreans with the Japanese by saying that they look alike, have similar cultures etc. Many Koreans still hate the Japanese due to the atrocities and "cultural assimilation" policy during the Japanese occupation and will feel very offended if you link them to the Japanese in even the most superficial way. One might also want to note that many Koreans also harbor some degree of resentment towards the mainland Chinese(though not to the extent of the Japanese), which generally does not extend to the ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities, as they blame the Chinese communists for the current division of Korea.

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