Korean Culture: What do you call someone the 1st time you meet him/her?

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.



This entry was posted in History and Culture, Korea, Korean Language and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Korean Culture: What do you call someone the 1st time you meet him/her?

  1. Kanha says:

    My Korean teacher called me by my last name, and when I told her to just call me by my first name (since I am younger), she was angry with me saying that I am rude. What is this case?

    • I noticed from your blog that you are studying Korean at the university level. I asked a Korean friend your question. She said that it would not be uncommon for adults to refer to each other more formally in business or non-personal settings. She said they might use either the title with the family name or the whole name…for example, Miss. Lee or Miss. Lee Mi-eun (though levels of formality vary). The first name alone (e.g. Mi-eun) is considered very personal in general and could be considered rude. Another point my friend made is there can be a generational difference; an older adult would likely be more formal than a younger adult, but that too can vary. Also if you are studying Korean, your professor maybe emphasizing (making a point of) teaching honorifics and Korean culture.

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