Korea’s changing rapidly, and many of the more “modern” Koreans tend to pay for meals individually (“dutch pay” in Korean). But some of the more traditional Koreans have a certain way of paying when hanging out. And that means you should know when it’s your turn to pay!
It really depends on who you meet, but when hanging out, some Koreans will pay for the bill individually. These are the more modern and/or international Koreans. They have their own money, and you have your own money. So just pay for your own stuff!
Example: Cheolsu orders a 20,000 won steak. Minji orders a 10,000 won salad. Cheolsu pays 20,000 won and Minji pays 10,000 won. Really simple! (Did anyone get the Korean textbook reference? )
But for more old school Koreans (aka Korean Korean or suuuuuper Korean) there’s a certain payment system with unwritten rules that is adhered to. Here’s an example:
Cheolsu orders a 20,000 won steak. Minji orders a 10,000 won salad. But when the bill comes, Cheolsu pays the entire bill. Minji says “Thanks! I’ll get the next meal!” And then she does!
And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be the next time they meet. Many times when hanging ou with Koreans, people will hang out in “rounds.” That means going for a meal first. Then going to a cafe, and then going to a noraebang! It’s a night filled with fun. But of course at the end of each round, someone has to pay! If you’re hanging out with 3 people, 1 person will pay for the first “round,” the 2nd person will pay for the second “round” and the last person will pay for the third “round.” And if the number of rounds don’t add up to the number of people, just get them the next time.
Tip: What really looks bad is when someone pays for the dinner and when you go to round 2, you calculate to try to split the bill. In that situation just pay for that person. Or if there’s too many people and the bill is too expensive, just leave out the people that have already paid for the previous rounds when calculating the bill (after all they already paid for round 1!).
Paying for other people does get kind of expensive (thus, the “modern” Koreans). And like we said, there aren’t any specific rules. But it’s usually understood that you’ll be paid back at some point (not that it’s expected — just common Korean etiquette). They like you of course. But you should definitely offer to pay at some point. Otherwise it might be a little rude to just freeload off of other people. To be polite the Korean way, offer to pay for something if someone has already paid for you.
The reason this happens is because of the very Korean concept of “jeong.” It’s a difficult concept, but we tried to explain it best we could here:
A Special Kind of Korean Love (jeong/정)