Korean Manners and Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts of First Meetings – Page 2 – Seoulistic

Korean Manners and Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts of First Meetings

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr


Hands on Shoulder: Don’t put your hands on someone’s shoulder, especially an older Korean. Doing so establishes yourself as a superior. And in Korea’s very hierarchal society, older individuals are to be respected more than usual. This is usually a non-issue with younger Koreans.

Just Sit Anywhere: Freedom of seat is not really a thing in Korea. In formal settings, seating arrangements are quite important. Your hosts might want you to sit at the most center position, giving everyone at the table access to ooh and aah at your responses. You might also be seated next to the boss or your future parents-in-law so that he or she can get to know you better. Whatever the case, don’t just grab the first seat you see. Just like on a Friday night at Outback Steakhouse, wait to be seated.

If you want to make a good impression at the dinner table, follow these Korean dining etiquette tips!


Business Settings


Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

Respect the Business Cards: If it’s a business meeting, you’ll most likely exchange business cards. But in Korea, you shouldn’t put it away immediately. In Korea, business cards are seen as an extension of the person, and it’s proper business etiquette to examine the card for a bit to see the person’s position as well as any other information that might be relevant. Putting away a person’s name card immediately signifies disinterest. Show interest by looking and flipping. Here’s a few more tips:

• Don’t write on the card. It’s a sign of disrespect.
• Don’t pocket the card right away. Doesn’t show enough care.
• Place it on the table in front of you. It shows care and respect for the card, and thus, the person.

Be Ready for a Long Night: If you’re traveling to Korea specifically for a business meeting, your Korean counterparts will most likely have the entire night, including dinner and drinks, planned out for you. And sometimes that can lead to a long night. Typically business meetings start with dinner (with drinks), move on to more drinks, and finally more drinks. But that’s more for businesses that have older traditions. For newer companies, it could be dinner, coffee and ice cream. Either way, it can be a long night. If you’re busy, just warn them beforehand.

Read more on What to Expect When Hanging Out with Koreans!

Follow the Boss: Whoever the highest level person you meet is, be sure to follow their lead. That means standing when he stands, sitting when he sits, and leaving when he leaves. Now this is showing the utmost respect. So if you’re in a position where you need the boss’ help, you might want to follow all of these rules as best you can. If they’re the ones in need of your help, do as you please (respectfully of course ;)).


Forget Rank: Korea’s a very hierarchal society and position and rank are quite important. And most Koreans prefer to interact with people of similar position. So a CEO meeting a first-year employee is not very common. If you’re setting up meetings, try to match positions as best as possible.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

Be Antisocial: Just like it is all over the world, it’s important to have trust and commitment in any business relationship. In Korea, however, that’s expressed through spending time together outside of the office. That usually means dinners and drinks. If you’d rather be playing League of Legends in your hotel room than having dinner and drinks with CEO Park, it’s a sign of disinterest. Spend that time, get that big contract, and buy the Seoulistic team a big fat dinner, mmk?? 🙂

Have you ever made one of these mistakes? Share your experience in the comments!

Related post: 8 Simple Ways to Make a Good Impression in Korea!

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. zero says:


    how about a muslim which can’t consume alcohol. How do the korean see that & how to responds?

  2. Jun says:

    What if you are allergic to alcohol.. if i even drink 1 shot of liquor or anything i end up throwing up. how do you convey that?

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this very informative post! So my question is, if you meet a new person and have nobody besides you whom you can ask what to call the person – what do you do? Ask the person directly what you should call him/her and be impolite for a small moment, not ask and be forever impolite or just call the person 선생님?
    I’ve been to Korea before and I experienced one situation like this. It was very difficult, especially since my Korean is not very good and the other person could not understand English at all (and was older than me).

    So, if asking directly is possible and not too impolite because there’s no one else around – how would you ask in Korean?

    And thank you for your wonderful and informative homepage – love it!
    Lisa from Austria

  4. Caffy says:

    Is it a must for a foreign female to bow to the ground when first met Korean guy’s parents?

  5. Kent says:

    Do Korean parents find it offensive if you bow to them when greeting even if you’re from another origin?

  6. Kaia says:

    This is really informative! Just one question: My boyfriend wants me to meet his parents. Could you describe what to do when a foreign girl meets a Korean guy’s parents for the first time?

  7. Joe C says:

    Thanks for the information. My wife and I are close with a young Korean girl, and she is bringing her new husband (and baby) to the US so her husband can meet us. He hasn’t been to the US before. How do we greet him upon arrival? I am much older than him. Do I bow?

    • Keith says:

      Hi Joe. It sounds pretty informal. A handshake is probably good enough 🙂 He’ll probably reach with two hands to shake your hand, I’d recommend you to do the same — it’ll show your initial respect as you’re meeting for the first time.

    • fifi says:

      I think he has to act like American because he is in America

  8. Annie says:

    I have a couple of questions regarding greetings. My family and I are letting a 16 year old South Korean boy live in our home as part of a language exchange for 12 months. The understanding on both sides is that he’ll be treated as part of the family (as a son and sibling).
    When we go to pick him up at the airport, how do my parents greet him (obviously them being far older than him)? How does my brother greet him (younger)? And how do I greet him? I’m 3 months younger than him. And for my parents, are hugs acceptable at all? Or should we all just stick to a handshake? Thanks for your reply 🙂

  9. Fafa says:

    I just hugged a Korean from a small Korean town and it was super awkward. Do I need to apologise? I just meant to wish new year as she is my neighbor.

  10. Jin says:

    I am attending a korea corporate forum, with seating assignd, is it rude to leave early?

  11. Hailey says:

    Hello Kim,
    Great article. I want to know how I should say Hello to my professor.
    Is it “anyoung haseyo” or “anyoung hashimnikka”?

    Thanks lot!!!

  12. Slim999 says:

    I am genuinely happy to glance at this blog posts which consists of plenty of useful
    facts, thanks for providing these kinds of information.

  13. Dani says:

    I was wondering about a few things that were not addressed here. I’m going to be applying to teach English in South Korea, so it’s very important to me to learn at least a few things I can do to ensure that I’m seen as polite, and not at risk of getting kicked out.

    First, do I have to specify which Korea I’m talking about, or is it just Korea?

    Second, are tattoos acceptable, for foreigners or otherwise? I only have one, and it’s very easily hidden, but I know that they really are not seen as a positive thing in Japan. I am still learning about Korean culture.

    I’m just trying to learn as much as I can before I apply. I really sunk all expectations into teaching first in Japan, but that is not currently a possibility, so I thought Korea would be the best place to try instead based on what I have heard about the country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *