As part of my Korean language course at our local community college, our instructor is teaching us about different aspects of the Korean culture. She has graciously given me permission to share this information on my blog. Many thanks to Mrs. Lee!
* When meeting a Korean for the first time, what should I call him or her?
In Korea, the word “you” is almost never used between two people, particularly in their first meeting. If you look up “you” in a English-Korean dictionary, you’ll find the word 당신[dang sin]: but to use this term to a stranger would be considered highly discourteous. You have all probably felt, upon meeting someone new, perplexed about what to call him or her.
In Korea, people are addressed by titles based on age and position, which are complex even for Koreans!
For example, if you meet someone with whom you have a working relationship, you might call him by his title of 사장[sa jang](president, director) or 부장[bu jang](manager); but you would also attach님[nim]at the end of the title(사장님 or부장님) to indicate respect. So now you may understand the reason Koreans almost always exchange business cards upon first meeting-these cards contain each person’s appropriate title.
But if you should happen to meet someone who does not have a prestigious occupation, after asking for his name, you may call him by his full name or first name plus, 씨[ssi] at the end to indicate respect.
For example, 김진수[gim jin su], which consists of last name 김[gim] and first name 진수[jin su], would be called 김진수 씨[gim jin su ssi]or 진수 씨[jin su ssi]. If the person you are meeting is a very close personal friend, or a child, in a one-to one conversation you can use 너[neo] (a very informal “you”). But even if this person is an adult for younger than yourself, you cannot use 너[neo] unless you are very close friends.