Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

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					                          Tips For Travellers to the
                          Republic of Korea (ROK)
The Korean people are generally considered to be descendants of nomadic Mongolian and central Asian
tribes, who migrated to the Korean Peninsula around 4,300 years ago. Despite historic ties with China
and Japan, the population is remarkably homogeneous, both ethnically and linguistically.

The traditional religions of Korea are Buddhism, Animism and Confucianism. Christianity entered
Korea with the influx of missionaries that followed the signature of treaties with Western powers in the
late 19th century.

South Korea is a country built on relationships. All social and business interaction is structured on the
status of relationships between the parties involved, with one person being considered superior or
inferior in standing to the other. The list of factors that are taken into consideration in determining who
has superior status is extensive, however there is always something which distinguishes individuals.
While the determination of relevant status is complex, any Korean will immediately sense his or her
place in the social hierarchy.

The emphasis on relationships in South Korea arises from the influence of Confucianism, which
permeates virtually every aspect of South Korean private and public life: authoritarianism, obedience
and loyalty. Confucianism defines society in terms of the five relationships: between father and son
there should be affection; between ruler and ruled there should be righteousness; between husband and
wife there should be attention to separate roles; between old and young there should be proper order
and respect; and between friends there should be faithfulness.

Each person has his or her place in a hierarchical social order and the preservation of harmony within
this social order is of paramount importance. An ‘inferior’ is expected to be obedient to his or her
superiors and the 'superior' is expected to be benevolent to his or her inferiors. In practice, obedience is
emphasised over benevolence in order to maintain the status quo. Furthermore, the emphasis on
preserving harmony can result in a lack of mobility between levels in the hierarchy.

While not technically a religion, Confucianism has provided the Korean people with rules that define
moral and appropriate behaviour and the proper relationship between the government and its citizens.
ROK's political traditions are strongly centralist and pluralist ideals have been slow to penetrate. The
loyalty of Koreans is shared primarily between the family on the one hand and the nation on the other.

The Korean language is written with an easily learnt unique phonetic alphabet called Han-gul,
composed of 10 simple vowels and 14 consonants. Chinese characters, or Han-ja, are still used in South
Korea to clearly define vocabulary items that are otherwise pronounced the same or to impart a greater
sense of formality or erudition on the part of the author.

Korean is complicated by the wide use of ‘honorific’ forms which reflect the complex hierarchical
social order in Korea. There are significant dialectical differences between different regions on the
Korean Peninsula, particularly now between North and South Korea. In South Korea, Korean spoken in
Seoul is generally regarded as the standard form.

The Korean language encompasses a refined spoken etiquette. The three basic levels of the language
include a polite form (used when addressing superiors and elders); an intimate form (used between
close friends and equals); and a “rough” form (directed at people on a lower social level). Korean
culture focuses on tacit (unspoken) understanding. In many cases expressions like “Thank you” and
“Excuse me” aren’t used. Rather it is taken for granted that in particular situation, one is grateful or
apologetic. Any sarcasm will probably be misunderstood, or worse, taken literally.
                    Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

Personal questions
        It is understood that protecting business confidentiality from outsiders is important. However,
        Koreans will not hesitate to reveal personal matters. In turn, non-Koreans may be asked about
        their age, marital status, salary or other personal items. In South Korea, traditional Confucian
        social structure, although changing, is still prevalent. Koreans are very conscious of formality
        and age seniority is important. Koreans will often ask someone about their age and sometimes
        their marital status (generally, married people have a slightly higher status within society) to
        determine relative position.

Common phrases

          English                                                Korean

          Yes                                                    Ne/Ye

          No                                                     A ni yo
          Good day (used morning, noon and evening)              An nyong ha se yo
          Good-bye                                               An nyong hi ka se yo
                                                                 An nyong he gye se yo
          Thank you                                              Kam sa ham ni da
          Pleased to meet you                                    Man na seo pan gap sum ni da
          Excuse me                                              Sil lae hamnida
          My name is ---                                         Che I-rum eun ---- im ni da
          I don’t understand                                     Chal mo ru ge sum ni da

Education is the only real way for an individual to increase his or her status in Korean society and as a
result, a premium is placed on educational attainment as it is in the other Confucian countries - Japan,
China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The education system in the Republic of Korea is based on the US
model: six years of primary school, three of middle school and three of high school. Reflecting a
tradition of respect for learning, high priority was attached to education well before the beginning of the
export-led industrialisation drive in 1962. A rapid expansion of educational facilities since the Korean
War has increased the national literacy rate to almost 100 per cent. Ninety-eight per cent of all South
Korean children attend compulsory primary school and approximately three-quarters of those who
complete senior high school continue to tertiary education. Adult education is being progressively
expanded through higher education, radio, television and internet courses, professional training and
other practical vocational courses. Koreans lament that fact that no Korean has yet been awarded a
Nobel Prize and are surprised to hear that 11 Australians have received Nobel Prizes. Korea claims it
has the largest number of PhDs per capita in the world.

Koreans who attend the same university use the familiar form of language, even if this is the only
connection they have. The relationship between two such individuals is modelled once again on the
Confucian social structure: the older of the two is referred to as sonbae or ‘senior’ while the younger is
referred to as huebae or ‘junior’. Students refer to each other using filial terms i.e. older brother/sister,
younger brother/sister. After graduation, sonbaes help their hubaes gain employment and provide
general continuing support. Hubaes in return, show respect to and obey their sonbaes. To increase
employment opportunities, Koreans prefer to attend the highest-ranking universities: Seoul University,
Korea University and Yonsei University.

Names are considered to be very personal and they are not usually used in conversation. First names are
used only between very close friends and under prescribed circumstances. To do otherwise is
considered impolite and possibly offensive. In fact, many older Koreans are so sensitive about this that
they don’t like to hear their personal names said aloud. Australians' propensity to use given names is
not shared by the Koreans outside their own family or very close friends. Koreans always address or
refer to other Koreans by his or her family name. Calling Koreans by their given name can therefore
create some awkwardness.

                   Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

Business cards
        Name cards are essential for all business/official meetings. Cards are handed directly to the
        recipient, who should pause briefly to read the card. Name cards, drinks, food etc should be
        offered and received both hands if the offerer is more senior.

Formal Titles
       Koreans are conscious of status, and should be addressed using their title. In conversation,
       after the initial greetings and exchanges, family names can be dropped, and you can just use
       the title. When addressing Korean, always include their title, for example, Professor Kim,
       president Lee, Manager Park. This shows respect and helps to identify the innumerable Mr
       Kims, Mr Lees and Ms Parks. If you can learn to say the titles in Korean, a much close
       feelings will be established.

        Names of positions and titles are considered very important. Professor, doctor, general,
        director or other titles of distinction, when known, should always be used. Titles are spoken
        after a person’s name, for example, Smith Paksa-nim (doctor) Son saeng Nim is a cover-all
        honorific meaning “teacher” or “honoured person”. It is particularly useful when talking to an
        elder in any situation.

Job titles and Their Korean Equivalent

          English                                      Korean
          Professor                                    Kyo Soo Nim
          Lecturer                                     Kang Sa Nim
          Tutor                                        Cho Kyo Nim
          Chair, Board of Directors                    Hwoe Jang Nim
          President                                    Sa Jang Nim
          Vice President                               Boo Sa Jang Nim
          Director                                     Guk-Gang Nim
          Department Manager                           Boo Jang Nim

Forms of address
       The Koreans follow the Chinese pattern of having usually three names, the first of which is the
       family name and the second and third are given names (some Koreans have only one given
       name). Korean names may be written in various ways, such as:
                1. Kim Chun-bok
                2. Kim Chun Bok
                3. Kim Chunbok

        An increasing number of Koreans invert their names when dealing with foreigners:
                1. Chun-bok Kim
                2. Chunbok Kim

        Kim Chun-bok should be addressed orally as Mr Kim. In correspondence the three names and
        title should be used. Among intimates s/he could be addressed on the familiar level. The ‘shi’
        is an honorific term that is always used at the end of the person’s given name, even among
        intimate friends.

        Married Korean women usually retain their own family name, although a few will voluntarily
        adopt their husband's name when dealing with foreigners. Some Koreans, mostly those
        baptised as Catholics, also use Christian names in dealing with foreigners and in these
        circumstances adopt a "Western" name such as John T. Lee or David Kim.

        Some Korean family names are not pronounced as they are written in English eg:
               Choi is pronounced as Chey
               Chung as Chong

                     Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

                   Chun as Chon
                   Yi, Rhee, Lee as Ee
                   Ryu as Yoo

          In romanised Korean, the 'a' should be pronounced as a long vowel, as in father eg Chang
          should be pronounced as 'Chahng'


        Words of greeting and thanks are always said with a bow of the head - the depth of the bow
        depends on the relative seniority of the two speakers. Usually greeting will involve telling
        about weather.

Knocking on Doors
       In Korea it is considered impolite to enter a room without giving some notice. Traditionally,
       people cleared their throats to indicate their presence. Today, they are more likely to knock on
       the door. There is no need to wait for the person to come to the door or to respond. Do not
       expect people to wait until you open the door or tell them to enter.

          This custom is especially noticeable in public toilets. When a door is closed, it is polite to
          knock first. If occupied, the occupant will knock, or make a noise so that you know not to

          Public toilets are sometimes used by both men and women. Women walk past men’s urinals on
          their way to private booths. Bathrooms in homes often have wet floors; so plastic thongs are
          worn whenever entering the bathroom.

          Taxi rides in Korea are quite cheap, and guaranteed to be interesting. They might be the cause
          of your first episode of culture shock.

          In offices and other public places, shoes are not removed. However, Koreans traditionally sit,
          eat and sleep on the floor, so shoes are always removed when entering a Korean home. Bare
          feet are considered an insult to elders, so it is best to wear socks or stockings when visiting
          families and make sure your socks do not have holes.

Paying the Check
        “Going Dutch” (sharing a check) isn’t a Korean custom. It is considered petty and impolite.
        You will often see Koreans fighting over who will have the honour of paying for a meal, but it
        is usually a performance. The rule is the host is expected to buy. Guests may try to pay, but it’s
        only a gesture.

Gift Giving
        Traditionally, gifts are never opened in the presence of the giver that would imply greed on the
        part of the recipient. Koreans will feel obligated to reciprocate in kind, so keep your offerings
        in a price range that your Korean colleagues may be able to match. Gifts should be offered and
        received with both hands. At officials meetings, an exchange of token gifts is customary.
        Bright colours are generally acceptable for gift-wrapping, as they are considered as auspicious.

Passing objects
        When passing objects to someone of equal or higher status, use the right hand. To show
        respect, two hands are used, or the right hand supported by the left.

Physical contact between Koreans of the opposite sex is usually limited if they do not have close
familial ties. Physical contact between relatives or close friends of the same sex is quite common.

                    Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

Personal Space
        Personal space is a rare commodity in Korea. If someone steps on another’s foot in a public
        transport, or knocks him over as he dashes for the elevator, it is unlikely that he will apologise,
        either in English or in Korean. This is not unique behaviour directed at foreigners.

Body Language
       •= Koreans don’t wink.
       •= Shrugging one’s shoulders to indicate “I don’t know” is very non-Korean
       •= Speaking with hands in one’s pocket way be taken as disrespect, as will saying “Uh huh”
           while listening to a superior.
       •= The Western symbol of “OK” making a circle with one’s thumb and forefinger means
           “money” in Korea.
       •= Some Koreans may use their middle finger to point at things, unaware that the gesture is
           considered obscene in some Western countries.
       •= Sitting with one’s legs crossed at the knee, especially in front of an elder or superior, is
       •= Calling someone to come to you using your hand with the palm facing the ceiling and
           flexing the wrist and fingers back towards you is considered rude.

Eye Contact
       In Korea, eye contact is kept about half the time during a conversation. When not looking at
       the other person, the Korean looks to either side, rather than up or down.


Korean Table Manners
       Traditionally, Korean food is not served in courses, but instead is all placed on the table at the
       same time. This style is called hanjongshik. There is no set order to eating the dishes served.
       As there are usually several “communal” dishes, the guest is not obliged to clean his or her
       plate. Diners help themselves from shared side dishes. The main dish is almost always
       accompanied by rice and soup, kimchi, and several side dishes. Koreans eat their rice and soup
       with a spoon, and side dishes with chopsticks. Stainless steel tableware and earthenware are
       used most frequently, with metal or wooden chopsticks. Knives are used strictly in the kitchen
       for food preparation. They are not used as eating utensils because Korean food is either pre-cut
       into bit-sized pieces or it is soft enough to be pulled apart using chopsticks. When dining at a
       Korean home, it is polite to eat as much as the host/ess places on the table: eating too little or
       leaving too much may be offensive to the host/ess.

    •=   Sit down at the dinner table only after the eldest person has sat down first. As soon as the elder
         picks up a spoon, you may start eating.
    •=   The seat of honour is at the centre opposite the door. Taking or leaving your sear prior to the
         person of honour is impolite.
    •=   Try a spoonful or two of soup or water kimchi before eating rice. When you eat rice, scoop
         from back to front in the bowl.
    •=   Almost every meal is accompanied by soup or stew. Try not to hold your soup bowl, or your
         rice bowl.
    •=   Use the spoon for rice and the chopsticks for side dishes. Do not stir your rice or your soup. If
         you place your spoon gently over your rice or soup bowl, it will indicate that you have not
         completed your meal. Do not leave the spoon or chopsticks stuck into the rice. This is a
         ceremonial act that symbolically designates the chopsticks for use by the dead. Place your
         spoon and chopsticks on the table neatly when you have finished your meal.

Drinking Customs
When offering a toast, say konbae (literally, empty cup). Pouring your own drink is bad form. Offer
drinks using two hands, or using the right hand with the left hand supporting the right elbow. Younger
people pour for elders, then for the next round, the older person pours. The person of lower status, or
the host of the event, will offer a glass to the most honoured person.

                    Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)


Climate / clothing
        Like other countries in the temperature zone, Korea has four distinct seasons. In spring and
        autumn, the weather is superb: clear, blue skies and warm, gentle sunshine. Summer is
        relatively hot and humid, with heavy rainfall occurring during the rainy season that starts in
        late July and lasts through mid-August, often causing flooding of low areas. Don't go anywhere
        without an umbrella during this time. Winter is cold and dry, with occasional snow and cold
        spells alternate with periods of milder weather. Temperatures range from a low of -15° C (5°F)
        in winter to a high of 34.7°C (94.5°F) in summer.

         The wide range of climatic conditions requires an equally wide range of clothing. Heavy
         clothes are required for the coldest months of winter (November-March) and lightweight
         clothes for the summer months (June-August).

Personal security
        Generally all visitors to the ROK can be assured of their physical safety. Seoul is a relatively
        safe city, but with the increase in tourists and foreigners, there has also been an increase in
        crimes such as bag snatching etc. Care should therefore be taken to guard against pickpockets
        and petty theft.

       Dial 112 for the police and 119 for the fire department. Police stations can be found on most
       major streets.

Business hours
        Government office hours are from 9:00am to 6:00pm (to 5:00pm in the winter months),
        Monday to Fridays, and from 9:00am to 1:00pm on Saturdays. Banks are open from 9:30am to
        4:30pm on weekdays, and from 9:30am to 1:30pm on Saturdays. Most private companies open
        from 8:30am until late in the evening.
        Major department stores are open from 10:30am to 7:30pm 6-7days, including Sundays.
        Smaller shops tend to be open longer hours.

         Power outlets for both 110 and 220 volts (60Hz) are available in the ROK. Plugs are the US,
         two flat pin styles. Always check the power supply before using equipment.
         Direct tipping is rare in South Korea and the practice is discouraged.

         A Value-Added Tax (VAT) is levied on most goods and services at a standard rate of 10 per
         cent and is included in the selling price. In hotels, this tax is charged on accommodation, meals
         and other services and is added to the bill.

New Year's Day                                                           1 January
Lunar New Year (varies according to the Lunar Calendar)
Independence Movement Day                                                1 March
Labour Day                                                               10 March
Children's Day                                                           5 May
Buddha's Birthday                                                        8th day of the 4th
                                                                         lunar month
Memorial Day                                                             6 June
Constitution Day                                                         17 July
Liberation Day                                                           15 August
Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving Day)                                         15th day of the 8th
                                                                         lunar month
National Foundation Day                                                  3 October
Christmas Day                                                            25 December

                   Tips For Travellers to the Republic of Korea (ROK)

Korea Government Homepage:
Life in Korea:          
Australian Embassy, Seoul:
The Korea Times:        
The Korea Herald:       
Australia-Korea Foundation:
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
         Country Brief :
Country Fact Sheet:     


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