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Is it rude to shake hands in Korea?

Is it rude to shake hands in Korea?


South Korea is known for its unique culture and customs, which can be quite different from those in other parts of the world. One of the most interesting aspects of Korean culture is the way people greet each other. While shaking hands is common in many countries, it may not be the best option in Korea. In this article, we will explore whether shaking hands is considered rude in Korea.

Korean Greetings

In Korea, there are several ways to greet someone, depending on the situation and the relationship between the parties involved. The most common greeting is a bow, which can range from a small nod of the head to a full 90-degree bow. Other greetings include saying hello (annyeonghaseyo), asking how someone is (eotteohke jinae?), and giving a handshake.

The Significance of Bowing

Bowing is an important part of Korean culture and is seen as a sign of respect. It is also an indication of the social hierarchy, with younger or lower-ranking individuals expected to bow first. Bowing can be used not only as a greeting but also as an apology or a way to show gratitude.

The Origins of Shaking Hands

Shaking hands is believed to have originated in ancient Greece as a way of showing that one had no weapon. It later spread to other parts of Europe and eventually became a common greeting around the world. However, it is not as widely used in Asian countries such as Korea.

Cultural Differences

In Korea, physical contact between strangers is generally avoided. This includes hugging, kissing, and even patting someone on the back. Instead, Koreans prefer to maintain a certain level of personal space. This is why shaking hands can be seen as uncomfortable or even rude in some situations.

When Shaking Hands Is Acceptable

While shaking hands is not the norm in Korea, there are some situations where it is acceptable. For example, when meeting someone from a Western country, Koreans may be more likely to shake hands. Similarly, in a business setting or when meeting someone for the first time, a handshake may be appropriate.

How to Shake Hands in Korea

If you do decide to shake hands in Korea, it’s important to do so properly. First, make sure your right hand is clean and dry. Then, extend your hand with your palm facing downward and your fingers together. When shaking hands, keep it brief and light – avoid gripping too tightly or shaking too vigorously.

The Importance of Respect

In Korean culture, respect is highly valued. This means that even if you don’t fully understand the customs or traditions, it’s important to show respect and follow them as best you can. By doing so, you will be showing that you are interested in learning about and respecting Korean culture.

Other Forms of Greeting

If you’re unsure about whether to shake hands or not, there are other forms of greeting you can use instead. Bowing is always a safe bet, but you can also try saying hello (annyeong), waving, or simply smiling.


In conclusion, while shaking hands is not necessarily considered rude in Korea, it is not the most common form of greeting. Instead, Koreans prefer to bow as a sign of respect and maintain a certain level of personal space. However, there are some situations where shaking hands may be appropriate, such as in a business setting or when meeting someone from a Western country. If you do decide to shake hands, make sure to do so properly and with respect.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about Korean culture and customs, there are many resources available online and in print. Some good places to start include the website of the Korean Cultural Center, the Korea Tourism Organization, and books such as “Korean Etiquette and Ethics in Business” by Boye Lafayette De Mente.

Why don’t Koreans shake hands?

In South Korea, it is perceived as impolite to shake hands in the typical Western manner. To demonstrate good etiquette, it is recommended that you use both hands to shake hands during your initial meeting.

What is offensive in Korean culture?

It is considered impolite to blow one’s nose at the table, even if the food is spicy. If it is necessary, it is recommended to leave the table or do so discreetly. In South Korea, people typically use chopsticks when they eat, but the chopsticks are made of stainless steel.

What do Koreans find offensive?

In Korea, using a red pen to write someone’s name is considered highly offensive because it suggests that the person has already passed away. It is believed that if the individual is still alive, the person who used the red ink is hoping for their death.

Why do Koreans avoid eye contact?

In Korean culture, it is considered impolite to maintain direct eye contact while conversing, especially when being reprimanded or admonished by superiors or elders. While many cultures view eye contact as an important component of non-verbal communication, this is not the case in Korea.

What hand gestures to avoid in South Korea?

In Korean culture, there are certain gestures that are considered impolite, such as making a fist with the thumb between the middle and index finger. Additionally, Koreans may not show as much emotion during conversations as other cultures.

What is to be embarrassing in Korean?

Feeling embarrassed or awkward.

Gender and Shaking Hands

In Korea, there are also gender-related considerations when it comes to shaking hands. It is generally considered inappropriate for men to initiate a handshake with a woman, especially if they are meeting for the first time. Instead, men may bow slightly or wait for the woman to offer her hand first. However, in more formal or business settings, shaking hands between genders may be more common.

Age and Shaking Hands

Another factor to consider is age. In Korean culture, age is highly respected, and younger individuals are expected to show deference to their elders. This means that younger individuals may wait for an older person to initiate a handshake, and they should also bow lower than their elders as a sign of respect.

COVID-19 and Shaking Hands

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people around the world have become more cautious about physical contact, including shaking hands. In Korea, this has led to an even greater emphasis on maintaining personal space and avoiding physical contact, even in formal or business settings. Instead, many Koreans are opting for alternative greetings such as bowing or waving.

The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity

Ultimately, whether or not to shake hands in Korea depends on the situation and the individuals involved. However, regardless of the specific customs or traditions, it’s always important to approach new cultures with sensitivity and respect. By taking the time to learn about local customs and adjusting your behavior accordingly, you can show that you value diversity and are committed to building positive relationships across cultures.

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