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> 10 Korean customs to know before you go
post Jun 9 2009, 03:33 PM
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Rolling Stone

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Once again, a great article from Matador, I had no idea that smiling was not common in public in Korea... I thought it was like, universal, does anyone know more about this? I'm curious.

Link to original article here



3. SOJU!

4. RICE!







Finally, please remember the two following things:

To a Korean, there is no such thing as The Sea of Japan. The body of water between Korea and Japan is known only as the East Sea.

Also, Koreans fervently believe that Dokdo - the disputed islets between Korea and Japan (known in Japan as Takeshima) – belong only to Korea.

It would be most unwise to attempt to disagree with either of these points, as Koreans don’t consider them up for debate

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post Jun 9 2009, 07:01 PM
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Hmmm... I think saying "Do not smile" is a little harsh. Though I know exactly what he's getting at, and I know he was trying to be funny. smile.gif

Korean's definitely have some social rules about smiling, but it's fairly specific. I'm not sure about this, and feel free to correct me, but I think smiling, in Korean culture, is seen as showing a weakness. I assumed it was an old Confucian ideal that has stuck around like so many others, AND I think it's more prevalent with the older generations.

I know official pictures--school, visas, work--you are not expected to smile. In fact, when I went to get a visa picture taken, the photographer told me to smile, so I flashed a big one. He said, "No! Mouth closed!" The picture ended up being of me looking like I'm trying not to laugh. Also, anytime you want to show power in a situation, you probably wouldn't smile. It's all very Korean though. If that's the "way it is," that is what the ENTIRE society will do, and expect nothing different.

That being said, Koreans love to smile!! They're a warm culture who love to laugh. WHAT exactly they find funny boggles my mind sometimes--certain Korean television shows--I just don't get them. I love to make my students laugh, and I think they like it when I do. In general though, if you flash a smile walking down the street, there's a 50/50 chance it will be returned. Depends who you're smiling at and why. In my experience though, where ever you are, a genuine smile = a smile in return--and that still holds true in Korea. Come on, they're human too.

The Dokdo thing IS really serious here! It's funny to outsiders, but Korean's feel VERY strongly for the little pile of Rock's in the East Sea. Japan and China have been trying to take things from them for centuries...can't blame them for wanting to hold on tight. They still have their little peninsula--and they've fought for it. Maybe they think giving Japan an inch, will let them think they can take a mile...it wasn't that long ago that Japan occupied Korea.

I would like to hear though of any other theories on the whole, "no smiling" thing. Remnant of Confucianism, or is it something different? Anyone know?

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post Jun 10 2009, 08:55 AM
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Rolling Stone

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That's very interesting, Melisa. Thanks for shining some light on that, it would definitely be a strange thing never to smile!

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post Nov 1 2009, 07:14 PM
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Younger Koreans smile in public all the time. Just go for a wander down Myeongdong in central Seoul and you'll see hundreds enjoying spending their money at all the cool shops. I can see where the "Do not smile" thing comes from though. Missjoymel hit the spot - it's from confucianism. And also true that you won't see too many of the older generation smiling. It's definitely a cultural thing, but like so many things in Korea, they're changing.

By the way, I was on Ulleungdo (an island between the peninsula and Dokdo) a month ago and they are selling "patriotism tours" to Dokdo! I didn't go though. 5 hours on the open sea to spend 20 minutes on a platform on a rock didn't appeal to me, particularly when Ulleungdo is so amazing. But the Koreans were digging it! 4.5 hrs over the open seas from the peninsula to those rocks!

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post Nov 3 2009, 08:20 PM
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Really good topic and I had no idea on the smiling. Good info smile.gif

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post Nov 9 2011, 09:11 AM
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In Southeast Asian cultures, a smile is frequently used to cover emotional pain or embarrassment. Vietnamese people may tell the sad story of how they had to leave their country but end the story with a smile.
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post May 8 2013, 03:40 AM
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I would disagree with "don't smile" I saw plenty of locals smiling and laughing when I was there
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