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If you’re traveling to Korea for business or for pleasure, and you are going to meet some Korean people, don’t you want to make a good impression? Here are 8 super nice things you can do for your friends in Korea to make a really good first impression that’ll last!
Korean culture puts a lot of emphasis on the giving and receiving of presents. It’s customary to bring gifts when you’re visiting a Korean person’s home. So it would be a really nice gesture if you brought a present to your host family in Korea. If you’re coming to Korea on business, a small present would also be super appreciated. The great thing is presents in Korea aren’t necessarily expected to be expensive! A thoughtful gift that is inexpensive (usually a food or snack of some sort) will do wonders for making a good first impression on Koreans.
This one might sound weird, but more traditional/older Koreans like to see people eat well. This is more of a Korean grandparent thing (for those who grew up in a generation that didn’t have a lot of food), but younger parents also tend to value this as well. So if you’re a younger person going out to eat with older Koreans, one way to show your gratitude is to eat a lot. Don’t be afraid to ask for more rice or more banchan (side dishes). It’ll put a smile on their face because you’re eating like a champ! Overeating ftw!
If you’re going out with Korean friends or a Korean host family, many will feel the need to buy you dinner. If you’re a special guest visiting Korea, many Korean hosts will gladly pay for dinner or invite you over for dinner. Buying other people meals or cooking for others are a few food-centered ways Koreans show their hospitality. So don’t fight over the check, and let your Korean hosts pay for the meal. It will let them keep face, and you’ll get a delicious Korean meal out of it. Everyone wins!
If you don’t want to pay the Korean way, find out why you might look cheap.
After eating your fantastic Korean meal and saying thank you to your Korean hosts, a nice gesture would be to get coffee, drinks or ice-cream for round 2 (이차 – icha). Hanging out with Koreans usually entails several “rounds.” Meals, coffee, dessert, noraebang, bars and many other things Koreans do to hang out are all considered rounds, and many groups of Korean friends pay in rounds (of course, some Koreans go dutch, too). If your friends are paying for each other, offer to pay for the next round to be awesome and make lots of Korean friends at the same time 🙂
Subway etiquette in Korea says you should get up for the elderly, pregnant, injured and children. So if you’re sitting in a seat and you see an elderly Korean grandmother get on, be an awesome Seoul subway rider and stand up. Giving up your seat is a one of the nicest gestures you can do for fellow Korea commuters. But that’s something that is translatable across the world. A very Korean way to be nice would be to get up for little children. Kids can have a hard time standing on a moving subway or bus, so getting up for cute little Korean kids is another way you can be really nice.
Some Koreans study a language their whole life but never have the chance to use it in real life. That’s why so many people jump at the chance to speak English (insert other language here) when they meet a native speaker! If someone is constantly replying to you in your native language, even if you speak Korean, that might be a sign that they want to practice speaking your language. Be an awesome friend to Koreans studying your language. Speak back to them in your language and let them have the chance to practice with a native speaker. For some, it’ll be the first time ever, and that’s a nice honor to have, isn’t it? 🙂
Respect for the elderly is a Confucian concept that Koreans live by even today. You will always see younger Korean people helping the elderly with heavy things and crossing the street even if they are total strangers. So one way to be an awesome person in Korea is to help the elderly when you can. The most common way to assist a senior in need is to help carry heavy things. Even helping someone to the top of the stairs will show a lot of care and respect. And in Korea, that basically means you’re uber awesome.
Tip: You can refer to any senior as grandmother (할머니 – halmeoni) or grandfather (할아버지 – halabeoji) respectively, even if they’re not your grandparents.
This is typical for Korean offices and schools. One way Koreans try to be nice is to bring officemates or classmates some food, snacks or drinks while you’re out. On the way back to the office, if you’re in the mood for ice-cream, a really Korean thing to do that would be ultra nice would be to get everyone else ice-cream too. It’s not too expensive, and it’s a really common way Koreans try to be nice. Some common things to bring back to the office or classroom are: ice-cream, beverages, bread (as snacks), coffee, etc. Remember, sharing is caring in Korea 🙂
This is related to that really complicated, but very Korean concept of jeong (정).