Arriving in Korea can be extremely daunting especially after a sleep-deprived day-long journey to the other side of the world. Don’t worry too much. As I have said before, Incheon Airport
is one of the greatest airports in the world. The wonderful people there can get you to where you are going. But for some, you might be arriving in Korea with your employer or Korean friend waiting on you. If you don’t have a bus ride to help brush you up on a few need-to-knows about Korean culture, get to know this quick list.
1. Use your right hand or both hands- Always shake hands or give things with your right hand and touch your left hand anywhere from your wrist to your elbow. It is more respectful. You can also throw in “ban-gahp-sahm-nee-da” (nice to meet you). If anyone gives you anything, accept it with both hands. This shows respect for the giver. See http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resourses/global-etiquette/south-korea-country-profile.html
. My buddy Tony prepped his parents on this and I believe it went a long way during their 2 weeks in Korea.
2. Do not tip. Just don’t. Koreans find it insulting that you think they need extra money. Just pay what the bill says. It feels strange at first to North Americans, but it becomes quite nice.
3. Smile often. Koreans, like everyone, respond better to a smiling face. Sometimes, if your host doesn’t speak English, body language is all they have to go on. No matter how tired you are from your flight, be sure to let your host know that you are happy to be there.
4. Bow to your elders. Just a little fold at the hips. Koreans do it sometimes when shaking hands.
5. Speak Korean. Learn how to say “hello” (ahn-yong-hah-say-yo) and “thank you” (kahm-sa-hahm-nee-da). This might be the most respectful thing you can do when you arrive. Koreans go crazy for a foreigner that learns some of their language.
6. Personal space is not an issue. Don’t expect to be the first one off the plane or the first one on the bus. Don’t be offended when Koreans get in front of you in line it is just part of the culture to move quickly and be first. Just be ready to be aggressive, not angry.
7. Look both ways when you cross the street. To catch the bus to Gwangju you have to cross the street at the airport. Koreans drive fast. It would be tragic to get hit by a car 10 steps into your visit.
8. Ask for help. I have said it before. Most Koreans love to help a lost and helpless foreigner!