The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once banned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n’ roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and one of the world’s most important smart phones. Here, the author, Euny Hong, gives a guide to modern Korean etiquette.
1. It is never considered rude to ask someone’s age—technically, instead ask, "What year were you born?" Without knowing which party is older, no one knows how to act or speak. One central tenet of etiquette in Korea is that you have to pay attention to who you are in relation to those around you: Man or woman? Older or younger? Professional rank? Etc. etc. You base all of your actions on hierarchy. If someone new enters the room, you have to recalibrate your behavior.
2. Food and drink are to be consumed whilst sitting or not at all, and indoors unless you are sitting on a picnic blanket. Do not carry around food or drink; not even a bottled water. And definitely not coffee. That would be like walking the streets with a pint of Guinness. And for crying out loud, don't bring beverages into the subway. You don't want to be the jerk who spills liquids on someone's Samsung Galaxy smartphone while they're live-streaming their morning TV programs.
3. Corollary to above: Under no circumstances should you bring your refreshment into someone else's home or office. I don't care if you still have a 3/4 cup full of iced latte; you have to toss it before you cross the threshold. By bringing your own insolent beverage, you have denied your hosts the chance to offer a refreshment. They will per custom offer you a coffee even though you have one; you are obligated to say yes and you will end up with two coffees. If you refuse, your hosts can’t have any coffee either.
4. Do not pour your own alcohol. If you want your glass topped off, hint at this by pouring alcohol into someone else’s glass, whether this person wants it or not. That person must then offer to pour some into your glass. A second and very important rule is that when you are pouring alcohol for someone, pour with your right hand and use your left hand to hold your sleeve. This will assure your drinking buddies that you will not stab them with your free hand.
5. If you are out drinking with friends or colleagues, it's not considered sporting to go home until everyone does. Nausea is in no way a good reason to go home. If you must vomit, go off and do it in the bathroom or alleyway, then return and repeat the self-poisoning/purge process. It is totally within bounds to ask a friend to help you barf.
6. If you are a student at a public K-12 school, never raise your hand in class. No good can come of it. If you have to use the bathroom, wait till after class. If you have a question, let it go. If the teacher is horribly wrong about something and you are trying to correct him/her…you are mistaken. Also, jackets are to be zipped/buttoned up or not worn at all.
7. Your pockets are no place for your hands.