Stooping when you meet someone is a great way to earn a good first impression.

Etiquette can be quite hard to pick up on in Korea. It is a widely known fact that the elderly are respected in Korean culture, and that they have the right of way. For foreigners, it’s the small things like table manners and the correct way of stooping that can have them sometimes misunderstood. Etiquette is as important in Korea as in western cultures and are mostly the same, though the following provides an in-depth look at what foreigners should do to keep their Korean acquaintances as friends.

Table Etiquette

Dining in Korea is a big deal. Small things like that bit of sticky rice on the side of your spoon or how you hold your chopsticks can mean a world of difference to how your Korean friends or acquaintances perceive you. For foreigners most of these things are put down to ignorance and may not go a long way to hinder the beginning of a new friendship, but even so, it’s always good to know what you should and shouldn’t do. In essence most of these rules are a direct reflection of western table manners.

General rules:

  • Wait for your elders to begin eating first.
  • Try the side dishes before diving into your main.
  • Use a spoon for rice and liquid foods and chopsticks for solid foods.
  • Never use chopsticks and a spoon at the same time.
  • Don’t make chewing noises and chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don’t just eat the best part of your meal.
  • Don’t leave food on your spoon when you’ve just eaten from it.
  • Don’t play with your food and don’t use your hands.
  • If you find something you can’t eat, wrap them in a napkin so others won’t see.
  • Don’t hold the bowl in your hand while you’re eating, and eat rice or side dishes from one side only.
  • If you have to sneeze, turn away from the table and use a napkin.
  • Don’t leave during a meal and regulate the speed of your eating so everyone finishes at the same time.
  • When finished put your spoon and chopsticks together on top of the rice or soup bowl.

The elderly:

  • You can stand up after the eldest person at the table has stood first.
  • Don’t slouch.
  • Stand when they do.
  • Don’t start until they do.
  • Give them the best seat.

Table rules:

  • Hot and watery foods are placed on the right side and cold and dry foods are placed on the left side.
  • The rice bowl is on the left, and soup bowl is on the right, with other bowls placed in the middle.
  • The spoon is on the right side and chop sticks are behind the spoon and placed a little towards the outside of the table.
  • Place kimchi dishes in the back row, stew dishes on the right, sauces in the middle of the front row, meat dishes on the right side, and vegetables on the left side.

Drinking Etiquette

The correct way to hold your cup while accepting an alcoholic drink.

Seating:

The oldest person sits in the best spot. Usually nearest the fireplace or where you can sit against a wall.

Offerings:

Don’t decline the first glass of alcohol. It’s courteous to drink the first glass when attending a drinking round so you don’t ruin the mood.

Drinking Manners:

So goes the old Korean saying “don’t stop with one glass, 3 glasses lacks, 5 glasses is proper, and 7 glasses is over-drinking.” Stand, take the glass with both hands and bow when the elderly offer you a drink. Drink when you get back to your chair, and don’t drink before the elder person raises the glass. In modern days, most people just get up to kneel and take the glass courteously with both hands.

Offering Alcohol:

  • Elderly get offered alcohol first.
  • Pour with both hands.
  • Hold the alcohol in your right hand.

Greeting Etiquette

When you meet the elderly or someone for the first time, you should bow. Stoop by about 30 degrees, woman with hands in front and men with hands by their sides. Nodding is considered bad manners. You should keep eye contact and say hello while stooping.

Other Etiquette

The elderly are respected in Korea so you should do your best to keep to that tradition. It is rude to put hands in your pockets in front of the elderly, and smoke. Drinking is allowed but smoking is considered to be challenging. While on a bus or in a subway, it is also important to concede a seat for the elderly.