From speed skating to Alpine skiing, the Winter Games offer chills and thrills for spectators worldwide. The year’s games will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and thousands of sports enthusiasts are gearing up to witness the competition in early February. With so many nationalities represented in the games and in the stands, cultural clashes are bound to happen between people with different customs. If you’re one of the lucky travelers headed to watch the games, don’t get left in the cold by committing cultural blunders- pack your travel savvy bags by prepping with these five culture tips.
- Gracious Greetings: While Koreans frequently greet Westerners with a handshake, Confucian values of harmony and respect are demonstrated by giving a slight bow at the waist with head and eyes down, hands at your sides. The depth of the bow depends on the age and rank of the other person; elders will therefore receive a deeper bow.
- Metro Master: Unlike the metros in western metropoli, public transport in Korea is nearly silent. Any conversations that take place occur in hushed tones. Speaking loudly into a cellphone or laughing at your travel companion’s joke may earn you a stern look or a signal to quiet down. When using public transport, leave designated seats empty for the elderly, disabled, or pregnant- even if they are unoccupied- the expectation is that only those who need them will sit down.
- Communal Cuisine: ‘Eating from the same pot’ is a Korean way of purposefully bonding relationships. Enjoy the communal serving style. Individuals serve themselves and place food from the serving platter into their own bowl before eating it; they do not place food directly from the serving bowl into their mouth. Items are passed or poured with the right hand.
- Tipping Savvy: While tipping is not historically a part of Korean culture, it is now expected that leisure and business travelers will tip 10-15% of the bill if a service charge is not included. Examine the bill. If there is no service charge, offer the tip to the server by folding the bill, placing it in your palm, and offering it silently. Also remember to tip taxi drivers, bellmen, and hotel staff.
- Honoring Hosts: There are numerous etiquette nuances for visiting a Korean home, but remember a few essentials before accepting an invitation. Always take off your shoes before entering, and wear any footwear (such as slippers) they provide. Also take the time to learn basic phrases such as, Annyeong haseyo (“Hello”), Kamsahamnida (“Thank you”), ju-seyo (“Please”) and Masisseoyo (“Delicious”) beforehand to demonstrate respect and cultural appreciation. Refer back to proper dining etiquette, and show respect for the hosts and their home. A small thank you gift to enjoy after the meal, such as fruit, liquor, or chocolates, will be appreciated.
Korean culture is unique, and honoring its values will enrich your travel experience. Remember these five insights when visiting the country, and enjoy every moment of the games!
Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards
Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.
Photo by: Rene Adamos