Korean Culture: Respectful body language

Special thanks to Mrs. Lee, my Korean instructor, for graciously allowing me to share these Korean culture write-ups.

* Do you know how to use respectful body language in Korea?

You may have noticed that body language differs according to culture. In Korea, people bow a lot-for instance, when greeting someone with안녕하세요?” people bow their heads a bit to indicate respect. But did you know there are also ways in which you may indicate respect using your hands?

When giving or taking something from a stranger, someone older, someone of higher status, or someone with whom you have a formal relationship (such as a co-worker) use not one hand but two. If it is difficult to use both hands, you can take the object with your right hand as your left hand holds your right forearm. Koreans also shake hands like this- with the left arm holding on to the right forearm. Watch closely next time you see two Koreans meet, as they bow their heads slightly and shake hands this way.

Drinking is a common cultural activity (especially among men) with its own rich body language. When pouring for someone, or having a drink poured for you, you should always hold the glass or bottle with two hands, arms extended. In the old days, the sleeves of traditional men’s Korean clothing were very long so one had to extend one’s arms out to receive a glass. Also, when drinking in front of a superior, turn your head a bit so that you are not facing him when you take a sip. This is another way of showing respect.

Koreans have become accustomed to this culture of paying respect to others through these various actions and postures; how do you feel about acquainting yourself with these?

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