South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, is a city where green parks, mountains and ancient temples break up the concrete landscape of skyscrapers. Traditional social etiquette is alive and well, even as fashionable, tech-savvy Seoulites lead the world into the future. Amidst this East-meets-West gallery of seeming contradictions, if you travel to Seoul, know what to expect and what will be expected of you when you visit what is one of Asia’s busiest cities.
Even though Seoul is a metropolitan city, the strict social customs of Korean etiquette still apply. Show respect to anyone by bowing when introduced. A simple nod is acceptable in casual situations; to show great respect, give a deep bow. Place your left hand on your right elbow if you’re reaching with your right hand to shake someone’s hand or give money to a salesperson. Other than these formal gestures, it is not appropriate to touch a stranger or an acquaintance in public.
Dining and Drinking
Wear clean socks if you are dining at a traditional Korean restaurant as you will take off your shoes at the lower level and climb up to the sitting area in your socks. Set your chopsticks down on the table when you are taking a break or are finished eating; do not cross them over the rice bowl. Never pour your own drink unless you are eating alone; wait for someone to pour you another glass and refill others’ empty glasses in return.
Koreans do not except tips for cab, restaurant or hotel service. Although it is not impolite to leave a tip on the table at a restaurant, it is not at all necessary. Accept change from cab drivers or waitstaff when they make an effort to give it, even if it is a negligible amount.