Whether you like it or not you’ll be using money pretty much everyday in Korea. And since cash rules, you should know the basic Korean etiquette and manners regarding money. Read this to make sure you avoid being rude in Korea!
The Basics – Use Two Hands
Most people in Korea will use cash simply to buy crazy cute Korean things like animal pajamas. But when you hand that cash over to the vendor, there is a certain social faux pas that you should be aware of. When handing things over to people, especially money, Koreans hand them over with two hands. It’s a sign of respect. And although this is less rigid in terms of small and quick transactions with people you probably won’t see again in the future (i.e. convenience stores, street food, etc.), you should definitely use two hands with certain people and situations, such as:
- Making purchases with large amounts of money – When you make a large purchase, it’s usually not something quick and simple. Unless you’re a Saudi prince, you’ll have to think long and hard before trading a few million won away for a brand new TV. And this usually involves some “getting-to-know-you” time with the sales people. Like it or not, you’ve built a little bit of a relationship with them once you’ve got to talking. And since you kindaaa know them, that kindaaa means you should respect. Use two hands (also applies when handing over credit cards).
- Paying for services rendered – If you’re taking taekwondo or Korean cooking classes, you probably know the people you’re learning from to some degree. So since they’ve been nice enough to teach you ancient Korean kimchi secrets or butt-kicking self-defense, you should of course extend them some respect with two hands. This also applies to tutors, workers you’ve hired, your masseuse, blood money, etc. (also applies to credit cards).
For Extra Respect, Use Envelopes
Handing over money (or credit cards) to someone with two hands is important to show respect to strangers. But if you know someone personally, there’s an extra layer of respect you can add on. In addition to holding out two hands to someone, you should also put money in envelopes, like if you’re…
- Giving cash gifts for special occasions – Some special occasions (i.e. weddings, certain birthdays) in Korea require cash gifts as presents (see when to give cash gifts and how much you should give here). Put the cash in an envelope, write your name on it (especially for weddings) and hand it to the cash collectors (usually there will be a very trust-worth person designated to collect money at these special occasions).
- Giving cash to someone you know – This can be just to give your nieces and nephews some pocket money, your son money for school tuition, to repay a debt to friend/family/loan shark, etc. Whenever you hand over cash of significant amounts, be sure it is in an envelope (name not usually required for these). It’ll show that you’ve put some thought and effort into preparing the money specifically for that purpose instead of just taking out whatever was in your wallet.
Extra tip: When giving cash to people you know, go straight to the bank to get fresh and crisp bills. It’s not the end of the world to give old bills, but it’ll make you look like you didn’t dig it out of your couch. And come’on who doesn’t like the smell of fresh bills? MONAY! 🙂
If you’ve ever wondered who the people on the South Korean bank notes are, find out!
Who’s on South Korean Money