Gifts You Should NEVER Give in Korea (Superstitions) – Seoulistic

Gifts You Should NEVER Give in Korea (Superstitions)

Just like in your culture, Korea has its own superstitions. And these superstitions refer specifically to gifts! Make sure you don’t give the following:

Knives, Scissors (or anything else sharp)

You’re watching the home shopping network and see a set of Ginsu Knives on sale, and you think it’ll make the perfect gift for your Taekwondo teacher. But no matter how awesome it looks slicing paper on the infomercial, this is one gift you shouldn’t give to Koreans. That’s because giving this gift represents the cutting of your relationship. Traditionally, many Koreans refused to give knives, scissors or anything else used for cutting because they didn’t want to severe any relationships. Instead, if you are ultra convinced that your friend will have such a great time using those knives to carve metal cans and furniture, what you can do is exchange a little bit of money. If you give a small amount of money to the gift giver, it will turn the gift into a purchase, and no relationships will be cut. Only random objects around the house :).



Our video on Korean dating superstitions has a perfect example of a gift you should never give. If your Korean girlfriend is a marathon runner, and you think she’ll cross the finish line a few minutes faster with a new pair of Nikes, go right ahead and give her that gift. But she might do a bit more running than just a marathon. In Korea, there’s a superstition that says if you give a loved one (guy or girl) a pair of shoes, that he or she will run away from you. If you’re a girl, this might be a good superstition anyway. Guys are terrible at guessing what women like to wear!




Handkerchiefs are great gifts that everyone can use for multiple purposes. They clean up cold winter snot, wipe up tteokbokki stains on your shirt and can be put into suit pockets to make anyone look like a million bucks. But this lesser known Korean superstition focuses on the fact that handkerchiefs are often used for cleaning up sad and sorrowful tears or sickly snot and coughs. Although it’s a superstition, many Koreans still abide by it because they don’t want any sadness or sickness for their boyfriend or girlfriend. So when you’re hanging out with your sick boyfriend, don’t give him your handkerchief. Just hand him those extra McDonalds napkins in your purse ;).

Cards in Red

Thoughtful people like to go a step further and write a little card while giving a gift. It’s a nice little space where you can write down that hilarious memory of your friend eating live octopus while a watching a super funny Korean karaoke video and then laughing so hard a tentacle shot right out of his mouth. Ahh… memories :). But when you pick up that pen, be sure you pay attention to the color. Red writing, especially when writing names, represents death in Korea. There’s an old and long history of names written in in blood resulting in someone’s death. And that old superstition still lives true today. Even though it’s specifically for names, an entire card in red might make a Korean cringe a little. So just pick up another one!

Where are you from? And what gifts should we not give in your country? Write a comment!

Also, you might find this other Korean superstition post pretty fun 🙂
Unusual Korean Superstitions that Kill, Blind and Haunt!

Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. Guillaume Brière says:

    hmmm we shouldn’t give clothes to childs, they hate that.
    Most importantly, never give a blender or such kitchen stuff to your mate, she might take it very badly 😉

  2. thet says:

    Your comment…handkerchief. in my country Philippines its a no,no to give hankerchief as gift because like what koreans believes,it will cause sadness to the person.

  3. Josue Jimenez says:

    Great entry!!
    It amazes me to actually see all this customs, here in Costa Rica, I can’t even start thinking about one at all

  4. Audrey says:

    Hi! I’m from Malaysia! We have a diverse customs, religions & beliefs as well as multiple races, but i’m gonna state just a few that i know. Anyone else from Malaysia can add on later kay! 😉 & i’m sorry if i’m mistaken~

    As far as i know, the red writing are true for Chinese people especially when writing their names are a no-no. But they have red greetings card for Chinese New Year, red money packets, red clothes, red decorations; red are meant to bring luck & prosperity to them.

    While for Indian-Hindus, they don’t eat beef or any meat from cows as they regards them as their god. So, its a bad idea to gift them ‘Sogogi’ or ‘Hanwoo’.

  5. sorinaa says:

    i’m from moldova. it’s exactly the same with the knives 🙂

  6. salma says:

    In Morocco, I don’t think we have such superstitions when it comes to gifts ! But since almost all Moroccans are Muslims don’t bring wine or alcohol products to somebody as a gift! Also don’t bring fruits or raw meat to somebody it’s like assuming like the host don’t have anything to eat and it can be rude, but I guess it’s the opposite if you know the person is actually really poor.
    I remember I foreigner visit us at home and brought chocolate which was nice because I love chocolate but until I ate it I found out it contains alcohol and I was quite sad!
    Also if you’re visiting someone for the first time it will be polite to bring some patisseries with you or sweets specially of they have kids.

  7. tepeh says:

    In Finland we have no superstitions like that. But don’t give your girlfriend a gymcard. 🙂

  8. Guillaume Brière says:

    @Audrey “While for Indian-Hindus, they don’t eat beef or any meat from cows as they regards them as their god”
    If I’m right it’s not that they consider them as God, but reincarnated people 😉

  9. Cassandra says:

    Ha ha @ Tepeh
    I once saw a man give a woman a dust buster for an anniversary. I’m pretty sure she buried him with it.

  10. PA says:

    In Indonesia writing in red ink has a negative connotation too, though not directly wishing death. But it’s considered disrespectful. Same with Salma said, a lot of Indonesians are muslim so alcohol drinks or foods are not very welcome. But it’s okay if you know they are non-muslim Indonesians! When people are sick we usually bring them fruits… I think giving money is considered kind of rude except at celebrated holidays (from older people to the younger ones), better go with vouchers in other occasions (if you don’t want to buy a physical gift)

  11. Rosel says:

    Here in the Philippines, giving picture frames is a BIG NO – NO. Not exactly because it’s a bad luck but because it’s very steriotypical! Things such as hankies, mugs, albums, rice cooker are way too infamous as gifts. Pissing off the person here in the Phils is worse than believing in bad lucks. Haha

  12. Katey says:

    I’m from the Philippines, we don’t give pearl jewelry as pearl represent tears. So if you give someone pearl jewelry, the receipt can give a small amount of money. Like Koreans, we do not give handkerchief and shoes.

  13. Mic says:

    In Chinese culture, never give clocks as the pronunciation of “giving clocks” is the same as sending someone off at a funeral O_o;;
    My boyfriend and I received a clock from my korean friend as a gift once, and he got seriously offended even though my friend had no clue obviously…..

  14. Aracelly says:

    In Peru, there are times that you recieve money as a gift , which i think it isnt bad at all, but of course it has to be a generous amount unless you wanna be mistaken for a rude person.

  15. Tatyana says:

    I like your website

  16. Tatyana says:

    In Kazakhstan we don’t present our girlfriends(boyfriends) watches. It means the same as shoes in Korea
    And if we want to give flowers, we always present odd number of it, because even number is only for dead people

  17. zahra says:

    i am an algerian
    well we don’t really have superstionss about gifts we think of it as a kindness from the others & kindness is very appreciated in my culture
    if you ‘re a guest in some algerian house you can bring fruits or pastry or sweets chocolate any thing sweet
    as long as it doesn’t have any alcohol in it or porc meet since it’s forbidden in our religien

  18. may huang says:

    We don’t give clocks as a gift at Taiwan.The pronounciation is the same as “to pay last respects”.

  19. John Bilkin says:

    What about Swiss Army Knives? It’s a common souvenir when you travel out of Switzerland (you can get it at Duty Free at the Airport in Zurich i.e.)

  20. Yeol says:

    As for the handkerchief part, it’s also a big NO here in Philippines. And it’s quite true (I’ve experienced it)
    I gave a handkerchief to my boyfriend as a gift for Christmas and 2 years later we broke up and he’s effin’ crying and forcing me to make up with him. NO just NO. ㅋㅋㅋ

  21. Aimin says:

    This info was quite interesting! I really didn’t have an idea about the importance of the meaning of some gifts. I’m from Peru and i think we don’t have any kind of superstitions about gifts, we’re just happy to receive one 😉 but i consider that there are some gifts like picture frames or teddy bears that are so common to give that it’s better not to give them.

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  23. ChipMonkie says:

    In my culture…we have a lot of superstitions.
    We can’t cut our nails or hair at night.. I don’t know why.
    We can’t point to the moon or we will get cuts behind our ears.
    We can’t burn pictures of people or hair.
    We can’t write in red.
    We can’t hit walls or slam doors because sometimes there are spirits there and if they get hurt you will start to feel pain like they do.
    We can’t lay on the ground at a funeral or try to hook up with someone at a funeral because you might bring a spirit home with you.
    You can’t point to a spot where you want to be bury or you will pass away.
    We can’t scare someone really bad because their spirit will leave their body and they will either get really sick or pass away within the next few years.
    Sometimes when traveling really far and you want a safe trip, we would wash our hands in a bowl and walk over a knife before leaving the house.

    There is a whole lot more but this is all I could think of for now… ^_^

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  25. sara says:

    as far as i know we dont really have any superstitions regarding giving gifts, but in my religion (islam) it is a huge sin to ask for gifts back or to look down on the gifts someone gives us even if it really is a horrible gift.

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  27. Tina says:

    I find it absolutely fine to ask your loved one what do they want to receive if you really really don’t know what to get them

  28. Amber says:

    In America, for weddings and bridal/baby showers it’s pretty standard to see a gift registry. Does that happen in Korea? So many couples here register for a nice set of knives for their wedding, but I guess that wouldn’t work every where! 😉

  29. Mimi says:

    In Korean Dramas the boy always gives the girl shoes…

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