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How to be polite in Korea?


In Korea, politeness is highly valued and is a part of their culture. Being polite in Korea is not only about using the right words but also adhering to certain social norms and customs. Whether you are traveling to Korea for business or pleasure, learning how to be polite will help you form good relationships and make your stay more enjoyable.

Learn Basic Korean Phrases

Learning basic Korean phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” is a great place to start when it comes to being polite in Korea. Using these phrases shows respect for the Korean language and culture, and can also help you communicate better with locals.

Use Appropriate Titles and Names

In Korea, titles are very important, especially when addressing older people or those in higher positions. Using the correct title or name shows respect and honor. For example, using “ajumma” (middle-aged woman) instead of “ma’am” while addressing an older woman is considered more polite.

Bow as a Sign of Respect

Bowing is a common way to show respect in Korea. A slight bow with your head lowered slightly is considered appropriate when greeting someone or apologizing for a mistake. The depth of the bow depends on your relationship with the person.

Handshakes are Acceptable in Business Settings

While bowing is more common, handshakes are becoming more acceptable in business settings in Korea. However, it’s important to remember that a firm handshake is not always appreciated, so it’s best to follow the lead of the person you are greeting.

Remove Your Shoes in Homes or Temples

In Korea, it’s customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or a temple. This shows respect for the space and helps keep it clean.

Practice Dining Etiquette

Korean dining etiquette can be complex, but a few basic rules will help you navigate any meal with grace. It’s important to wait for the oldest person or the host to begin eating, and to use chopsticks correctly. Also, avoid blowing your nose at the table or putting bones back on a shared plate.

Offer Gifts as a Sign of Respect

Offering gifts is a great way to show respect in Korea, especially when visiting someone’s home. Gifts should be wrapped in colorful paper and presented with both hands. Avoid giving items that are white or black, as these colors are associated with mourning.

Avoid Touching Other People

In Korea, touching other people, especially those of the opposite sex, is considered impolite. Avoid touching others on the back, hugging, or kissing in public.

Be Aware of Personal Space

Personal space is important in Korea, and standing too close to someone can make them uncomfortable. It’s important to maintain a respectful distance when speaking with others.

Respect Elders and Those in Authority

Respecting elders and those in authority is an important part of Korean culture. This includes using appropriate titles and names, deferring to their decisions, and avoiding confrontations.

Apologize When Necessary

If you make a mistake or cause offense, it’s important to apologize sincerely. In Korea, apologizing is seen as a sign of maturity and respect.


In conclusion, being polite in Korea involves more than just using the right words. It requires an understanding of social customs and norms. By following these tips, you’ll show respect for Korean culture and form positive relationships with locals. Remember that being polite is not only important in Korea but also in any culture you visit.

What is considered polite in Korean?

In certain cultures, it is considered good manners to use your right hand to pass or receive food or drinks while your left hand supports your wrist. The person who extends an invitation is typically responsible for paying for everyone, but it is courteous to offer to pay. In situations where there are two diners, it is customary for the younger person to pay for the elder.

What is Korean hand etiquette?

In Korean culture, it is impolite to receive something using only one hand. It is customary to use both hands when receiving something, or to use your right hand while holding your right wrist with your left hand as an alternative. This shows respect and politeness.

How do you politely greet someone in South Korea?

Here are some ways to say “hello” in Korean: “안녕하세요” (annyeong haseyo) is a polite greeting, “안녕” (annyeong) is a more casual way to say hello, “녕하십니까” (annyeong hasimnikka) is a formal greeting, and “여보세요” (yeoboseyo) is the proper way to answer the phone.

How do you show respect to Koreans?

Demonstrating respect to elders involves listening to their opinions, seeking their input, and showing deference by lowering your gaze. It is also customary to offer and receive objects, gifts, and food with both hands, and to remove your hat when indoors.

Is respect a big thing in Korea?

In Korean culture, showing deference to elders and those in higher positions is of utmost importance, and hierarchy plays a significant role in all social interactions. Each person has a specific role within society based on this hierarchy, and it is crucial to show respect for it. Koreans tend to feel the most at ease when interacting with individuals they perceive as being at their same level.

How do Koreans apologize?

To apologize to your close friends in Korean, you can use the phrase 미안해 (mi an hae), which is the most widely used informal way to apologize. This expression is appropriate to use in casual conversation with friends or partners.

Don’t Interrupt or Speak Loudly

Interrupting others while they are speaking is considered rude in Korea. It’s important to wait for your turn to speak and to listen carefully to what others are saying. Additionally, speaking loudly or raising your voice can be seen as aggressive behavior, so it’s best to speak in a calm and respectful tone.

Respect Public Spaces

Respecting public spaces is an important part of being polite in Korea. This includes not littering, smoking in designated areas, and keeping noise levels down in public areas. It’s important to be mindful of others and the environment around you.

Avoid Negative Gestures

Negative gestures like pointing with your finger or shaking your head can be considered impolite in Korea. Instead, use positive gestures like nodding your head to show agreement or appreciation.

Be Punctual

Being punctual is highly valued in Korean culture. Arriving late to appointments or meetings can be seen as disrespectful and unprofessional. It’s important to arrive on time or even a few minutes early.

Learn the Art of Small Talk

Small talk is an important part of building relationships in Korea. Learning how to engage in small talk can help you form connections with locals and make new friends. Topics like food, travel, and family are great conversation starters.

Don’t Make Physical Contact with Strangers

Making physical contact with strangers, like patting someone on the back or touching their arm, is not common in Korea and can make people uncomfortable. It’s best to avoid physical contact with strangers unless it is necessary.

Show Gratitude and Appreciation

Showing gratitude and appreciation is a great way to be polite in Korea. Saying “thank you” often and expressing gratitude for even small gestures can go a long way in building positive relationships.

Be Mindful of Cultural Differences

Cultural differences between Korea and other countries can lead to misunderstandings or unintentional breaches of etiquette. It’s important to be mindful of these differences and to ask questions or do research when necessary. Showing an interest in Korean culture can also be seen as a sign of respect.

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