8 Korean Travel Tips
There are hundreds of things you should know before traveling to Korea. But eight of the most important ones revolve around learning the intricacies of the culture. This will include things like basic words and phrases as well as etiquette around politeness, shoes, respect for seniority, dining, drinking alcohol, tipping and the general attitude of Korean people.
As the old adage goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and this is ever so poignant when you’re in Korea. These people have very refined social graces that come with many intricacies and nuances that you can only learn when among them. However, consider the basic eight tips below to get yourself started.
1. Study Korean Words ; Phrases
Before you leave for your trip to Korea, make sure you learn how to say some of the most basic words. While their alphabet is easy once you get the hang of the symbols, attempting to speak the language will win you brownie points with the locals. Learn how to say things like:
- Hello: 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)
- Thank you: 감사합니다 (kamsahabnida)
- Goodbye: 안녕히 계세요, 안녕히 가세요 (annyeonghi gyeseyo, annyeonghi gaseyo)
- You are welcome: 천만에요 (cheonmanaeyo)
- Cheers!: 건배! (geonbae)
- Good Morning: 좋은 아침이에요 (joeun achimiaeyo)
- Good Afternoon: 좋은 오후에요 (joeun ohuaeyo)
- Good Evening: 좋은 밤이에요 (joeun bamiaeyo)
- Sleep Well: 잘 자요 (jal jayo)
- Excuse (Pardon) me: 실례합니다 (sillae habnida)
- I apologize: 죄송합니다 (jwisong habnida)
- Where is the bathroom?: 화장실이 어디예요? (hwajangsil eodiaeyo)
- How much does this cost?: 얼마예요? (eolma aeyo)
2. Being Polite Is Key but Korea Is a Bustling Place
Politeness and respect are two valuable virtues in Korean culture. They especially hold the elderly in high regard. However, understand that Korea, in particular Seoul, is a busy place filled with hasty and diligent people who are trying to get to work, school or other important obligation.
This means you may experience shoving, pushing and elbowing during rush hour and other busy times of day. Remember to not get upset as this is just their daily mode of being. Other than this, you’ll find Koreans to be kind, generous, gentle and polite people.
3. Absolutely No Shoes Indoors
Shoes are not allowed indoors. This is true for homes as well as hotels and other hospitality establishments. There are even some restaurants and bars requiring the removal of shoes at the door. More often than not, they will offer you a pair of slippers to move about the place. In domestic situations, some families have separate slippers for specific rooms.
4. Seniority ; Hierarchy Are Important
Koreans have an undying respect and utmost regard for seniority and their elders. Seniority does not just mean age, this also includes rank, experience, etc. When this is present, you must extend respect by bowing to the superior and uttering apologies for any mistakes you make.
5. Observe Dining Etiquette
There are many intricacies and rules to follow in regards to Korean dining etiquette. However, they are very forgiving to foreigners who are newcomers to the culture. To those from the West, some of these may seem downright bizarre. For instance, children cannot begin eating until their elders have started.
There are other things too such as not making noise while eating. This includes loud chewing, slurping, clanking utensils, etc. The point of all these rules is to show the utmost respect to elders and others around you. Whenever you’re in doubt, ask a server, friend or other such person.
6. There Is Drinking Etiquette Too
Like food, alcohol also has its own rituals and etiquette people, even newcomers, must be aware of. Much of this goes back to respect and placing value on seniority. It’s always better to drink in a social situation rather than alone. If you do drink alone, you should have your server pour your drinks.
When with a group of people, everyone should pour at least one round for each person in the group. It starts with the youngest member serving the eldest and working their way down to the youngest. The next round of drinks will have the second youngest member serve and so on.
There are many intricacies to consuming alcohol in Korea. So, it’s best to learn as much as you can if you want to sample that side of the culture.
7. There’s No Need to Tip
Whether at a bar or a restaurant, you don’t need to tip on top of the price you pay. In fact, it is rude to do so. Tipping is a display of hubris; it says to your server that you are higher on the hierarchy. They will likely perceive this as audacious and belligerent, especially if you don’t know them personally.
8. Koreans Are Romantic ; Affectionate People
Only until a couple decades ago, public displays of affection were not socially acceptable. But this is no longer the case and you will frequently see couples interacting in a cutesy sort of way. They tickle, pinch, caress extremities and play fight.
You’ll also notice almost everyone will have a significant other of some sort. This is because of the pressure and emphasis on being in a relationship. Korean culture very much focuses around love and romance.
As you can see, this is only a mere sample of Korean culture and there are a host of other things to learn. If anything mentioned above piques your interest, it’s advisable to do a deeper dive so you can understand as much of the intricacies about it as you can. But, Koreans are very forgiving to newcomers and do give a window of allowances for some faux pas.