Korean Events and Customs

korean sword dance jinju geommu

Photo credit: SJ Yang

South Korea’s culture is unmistakable. With strong ethnic ties to food, religion, and social rituals, Koreans share a definite cultural foundation.

With similar demographics to neighboring Japan, foreigners only make up about 2% of the South Korean population.

Before you venture to Korea (and even if you’re already there) you might have an easier time assimilating if you understand a bit more about what makes Koreans tick.

Dating in Korea

Meeting members of the opposite sex in Korea might be a challenge. Many Koreans, and even young people do not speak English well, and may be hesitant in starting up a conversation with a foreigner.

You’ll have better luck if you speak Korean, or have some connection to the country that makes the other person feel at ease. Koreans are normally shy with foreigners and for the most part are much less open-minded than Europeans or Americans when it comes to interracial relationships.

dating in koreaHolding Hands is Quite Popular

You may have noticed that many couples in Korea hold hands. Female friends often hold hand as well when they’re out together.

No, this doesn’t mean they’re lesbian or off the market, it’s just an expression of friendship that’s socially accepted.

Dating couples don’t show much affection in public however, and act kind of cold to each other in public.

Couple Wear is All the Rage

It’s a common sight in Korea to see a couple wearing almost the exact same clothing.

Termed pair wear, this practice often goes to the extreme with the two people wearing the same tennis shoes, shirts, and pants.

And it’s not just the young that do it, even people into their 30s show off their commitment to one another by looking identical.

100 Days is a Big Deal

Korean couples don’t celebrate anniversaries each year, but stop to take notice of their relationship every 100 days. This 100 day anniversary thing doesn’t stop with dating couples however, and newborn babies experience their first ceremony at the 100 day mark.

How to Behave in Korea (You Might Now Know This)

If you’re a Westerner like me, you probably won’t realize that things we do in our everyday lives sometimes aren’t appropriate in Korea.

In fact, if you’re an American, there are probably a few behavioral modifications you’ll need to make to avoid offending Koreans.

Staring is Rude (and so is smiling)

As you walk the streets in Korea, don’t be expected to be greeted warmly by every Korean that passes you by.

Adult Koreans are reserved and don’t generally show much emotion in public.

Because of this, any outward signs of overly friendly behavior will actually be off-putting to adults, and will leave them thinking that you’re immature or worse just plain rude.

You Might Get Shoved

Don’t take it personally if you get pushed, bumped, and jostled during your daily commute on public transportation. Koreans are used to being in tight quarters. This is especially true on subways during rush hour.

But these bumps aren’t mean spirited, and they’re totally accepted in normal daily life in Korea.

south korean protestChauvinism is Alive and Well in Korea

I hate to break it to you ladies out there, but Korea isn’t as friendly to female empowerment as say the liberal cities of America.

Whether you like it or not, women are objectified and categorized much more rigidly than you may be used to.

Korean and Japanese culture still very much favor males.

Protests are a Common Sight

Where I’m from in America having a protest is a big news story. Not so much in Korea.

Koreans it seems protest for just about anything. Most all of these are peaceful and are just a public demonstration of a group’s disagreement with a certain topic.

Man of the times these groups of Korean protestors sit in parks and listen to the protest leader explain why the group is doing as they are.

Sometimes these protests can get pretty crazy though. There’s been reports of violence and self-mutilation, but these actions aren’t the norm.

If you don’t have business being there, it’s probably best to steer clear and carry on with your business.

dont fill your own glass in korea

Photo credit: Bootsnall

Don’t Pour Your Own Drink

It’s considered bad taste to fill your own glass at meals if you’re eating with others.

What you should do is fill the other person’s glass and let them fill your own.

Don’t worry you won’t die of thirst, and if you’re eating with Koreans they will watch your glass like a hawk, ready to refill when it’s only half empty.

Don’t Lift Your Rice Bowl Off the Table

I had some trouble with this one because I lived in Japan for two years.

In Japan, it’s normal to bring plates and bowls to your mouth.

In Japan it’s considered impolite and boorish to transfer food long distances from tableware to mouth.

But it’s the exact opposite in Korea. Leave your plate and bowl on the table and use your silverware to transfer the food.

Also, Koreans use spoons instead of chopsticks to eat rice, which might be different than what you’re used to if you’ve lived in other Asian countries for a time.