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Is it normal to bow in Korea?


Bow is a cultural gesture that is common in many parts of the world. In Korea, bowing is an essential part of their culture, and it has a significant meaning. Koreans bow to show respect, gratitude, congratulations, and apologies. Understanding the importance of bowing in Korea can help foreigners visiting or living in Korea to avoid cultural offenses.

The Origin of Bowing in Korea

Bowing in Korea has a long history and has been traced back to ancient Confucianism teachings. Confucianism emphasizes respect for authority, elders, and social hierarchy. Bowing was used to show reverence to ancestors and people of higher social status. Today, bowing still plays a vital role in Korean culture.

Different Types of Bows

There are different types of bows in Korea, and each has its own meaning. A deep bow, called keunjeol, is used to show the utmost respect and humility. A slight bow, called jeol, is used to show regular respect for people of equal or lower social status. The duration and angle of the bow also signify the level of respect.

When to Bow

Knowing when to bow is crucial in Korean culture. Bowing is done during formal events such as weddings, funerals, and business meetings. It’s also common to bow when greeting someone for the first time or saying goodbye. Bowing can be done individually or collectively.

The Dos and Don’ts of Bowing in Korea

While bowing is an integral part of Korean culture, it’s essential to know the proper etiquette when doing so. One should never turn their back while bowing or neglect to bow when necessary. Additionally, one should not bow too deeply or too briefly.

Bowing in Business Settings

In business settings, bowing is a way to show respect and acknowledge the hierarchy. The person of lower rank should bow first and then the higher-ranked person. The duration and depth of the bow are determined by the level of respect.

Bowing in Social Settings

In social settings, such as when meeting friends, bowing is less formal. A slight bow is usually sufficient to show respect. However, if someone is significantly older or has a higher social status, a deeper bow may be appropriate.

Bowing in Casual Settings

In casual settings such as with family members or close friends, bowing may not be necessary. However, it’s still essential to acknowledge and show respect for elders and people of higher social status.

Non-Koreans Bowing in Korea

For non-Koreans visiting or living in Korea, it’s important to understand the significance of bowing. While it may not be expected for foreigners to know all the nuances of Korean culture, making an effort to show respect through bowing can go a long way.

Alternative Greetings

If bowing feels uncomfortable or inappropriate, there are alternative ways to greet someone in Korea. A handshake is acceptable in business settings, while a nod or a smile is appropriate in social settings.


Bowing is an essential part of Korean culture that has a deep meaning and significance. Understanding when and how to bow can help foreigners avoid cultural offenses and show respect for Korean traditions. By embracing this aspect of Korean culture, non-Koreans can build better relationships with their Korean counterparts.



Is it okay to bow in Korea?

Similar to Japan, bowing is a common form of showing respect in Korea, particularly between strangers or coworkers. Students may bow when meeting older students, and middle-aged women at restaurants may also greet with a bow.

Is bowing common in Korea?

In South Korea, the customary way to greet others is by bowing. A casual bow involves lowering the head with closed eyes and sometimes a slight bend from the waist. This type of greeting is used informally or when encountering someone of higher social status.

Are foreigners expected to bow in Korea?

When meeting Koreans, it is customary to bow as a sign of respect, even when speaking over the phone. While this gesture can help you connect with locals, it’s important not to overdo it. A full, right-angled bow is only reserved for royalty, which hasn’t existed in Korea since 1910.

Do you bow to someone younger than you in Korea?

Traditionally, when greeting someone in some cultures, the younger person will bow first and then proceed to shake hands with both hands if the older person initiates the handshake. It is important to acknowledge seniority by allowing them to greet first. This practice is still observed in some cultures.

Is archery a big deal in Korea?

Traditional Korean archery has played a significant role in their culture for many years. Due to a large number of people interested in the sport, it was easy for them to transition to the Olympic style of archery with the help of skilled coaches and determination. Today, it has become a part of modern Korean history, and a statue of a horse-mounted archer can be found outside their military academy.

How do Koreans show respect?

In Korean culture, bowing is a way to greet and show respect to those who are older or in a higher position. The person who is younger or in a lower position initiates the bow by bending from the waist at an angle of 30-45 degrees. The person who is older or in a higher position then returns a less pronounced bow as a sign of acknowledgment.

Modern Changes to Bowing in Korea

While bowing remains an essential part of Korean culture, modernization has led to some changes. In recent years, younger generations have started to bow less often, and bowing has become less formal in some situations. However, it’s still important to understand the traditional etiquette and show respect when necessary.

Bowing in Other Cultures

Bowing is not unique to Korea and is also present in other cultures such as Japan and China. However, the meaning and etiquette of bowing can vary between cultures. For example, in Japan, bowing is used to show respect, gratitude, and apology but is also a way of greeting people. In China, bowing is less common but may be used in formal settings.

The Importance of Cultural Understanding

Understanding the cultural significance of bowing in Korea is just one aspect of cultural understanding that is essential for successful interactions with people from different backgrounds. Taking the time to learn about and respect different cultures can lead to better communication, stronger relationships, and more successful business ventures.

Cultural Sensitivity Training

For individuals or organizations working regularly with people from different cultures, cultural sensitivity training can be a valuable tool. These training programs provide education on various cultural norms and etiquette to help avoid cultural offenses and misunderstandings.

The Benefits of Bowing

While bowing may seem like a simple gesture, it holds significant meaning in Korean culture. Showing respect through bowing can help build trust and strengthen relationships with Korean counterparts. Additionally, demonstrating an effort to learn and respect Korean culture can lead to greater success in business ventures or personal interactions.

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