Korean Mannerisms: Changing the Way I Act

Being brought up in an Chinese-American household, the way I carry myself could be described as having formal and polite mannerisms to adults, and informal, yet polite, mannerisms to strangers. The Chinese culture is a relatively informal environment, as well as the American culture. This all changed when I arrived in Korea, where formal mannerisms are of the utmost importance to how I carried yourself and how other people perceive me.

Many basic actions taken throughout the day are timid and conservative in Korea. When the door is held for you, you should bow and say “Thank you,” whereas just saying “Thanks!” is appropriate enough in the States. When meeting someone for the first time, bowing and saying “Hello,” would be the most polite. When handling money during purchases, your right hand should be the hand to give and receive the money, while your left hand is retracted, slightly touching your forearm.

The polite way to handle money

However, giving and receiving money with two hands is the highest form of respect. As a matter of fact, giving and receiving anything with two hands would show the most respect.

There are also certain ways to address people. If you meet someone who happens to be the same age as you, as in born the same year, you two would be considered as 친구 (pronounced chin-gu), which means friend. However, a deviation by one year changes everything. A male would call a slightly older male 형 (pronounced hyung), which means older brother, and call a slightly older female 누나 (pronounced noona), which means older sister. On the other hand, a female would call a slightly older male 오빠 (pronounced oppa) and a slightly older female 언니 (pronounced unni), with the same respective meanings. Also, with the age gaps, there comes a certain way you should talk to the person. Older people will talk to younger people informally and vice-versa. This is also carried in seniority or status, such as a younger principal will communicate informally to an older teacher, since a principal has higher status than that of a teacher. It is only until the older person is willing to drop formalities can the two speak informally to each other.

With that said, I had to drastically change the way I acted as to not offend anyone. I still make the mistake of speaking informally to some people, but I’m still working on it. Hopefully, if anyone decides to come to Korea, that they don’t make the same mistakes that I do.