AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Korea 101: What not to do

What to do? What not to do? These are the questions you must ask when you travel. Team Canada presents some important tips on what you should avoid in Korea.

Writing in Red

Team Canada - Red Pen

In Korea, it is considered bad luck to write someone’s name in red ink. In the past, the names of the deceased were written in red ink in family registers and on funeral banners to keep evil spirits away.

Eating before your Elders

Team Canada - Korean Table

Before you pick up your chopsticks, look at your dining companions. Unless you are the oldest person at the table, you should wait before eating. Korean Culture values waiting to let the oldest people at the table eat first, don’t pick up your utensils and start chowing down right away. If you aren’t sure of the ages of the people you are eating with, wait and let them get started first. Your table cohorts will appreciate your efforts to learn Korean culture and manners.

Sticking your chopsticks in your rice

Team Canada - Chopsticks in Rice

Never, ever do this! Upright chopsticks look like incense sticks burnt at funerals or ancestor worships. Bringing up death at the table is a definite no!

Mr. and Mrs.

If you are meeting a Korean man who is older than you, he may introduce himself using “Mr.” and his family name. Koreans are very conscious of using the proper title based on rank, so many men don’t want to be called by their first names. If he says his name is Mr. Kim, then it is fine to call him that. However, when he introduces you to his wife, she will likely not be Mrs. Kim. When Koreans marry, the children take the father’s family name, but the wife keeps her family name. If you’re confused, just ask your Korean colleagues what they would like to be called.

Filling your own glass

Team Canada - Filling Glass

If you are out with friends or colleagues, it is considered rude for anyone at the table to have an empty glass, but it is also rude to fill your own glass. Fill up your table mate’s glasses when they are empty, starting with the highest status person at the table. They will return the favour and fill your empty glass.

Swinging your Legs

According to Korean tradition, when someone swings their legs, they are beating all their luck and health away.

Refusing Soju

Team Canada - Soju

Drinking a glass of Soju, a traditional Korean rice alcohol, with your elder is a sign of respect and friendship. To refuse is a sign of great disrespect.