Every culture has its own rules relating to table manners and the Korean culture is no exception. In order not to upset the Koreans who dine with you, you should familiarize yourself with the Korean table manners. In this blog post, I will talk about some interesting Korean table manners which may be quite different from the other cultures to help you avoid culture shock when dining with your Korean friends.
Do’s and Don’ts at the Table
The Korean culture is deeply influenced by the Confucian values such as respect for the elderly and the young / lower-ranking person should show respect to the older / higher-ranking person. This also applies to table manners. For example, the younger / lower-ranking persons should start eating after the oldest / highest-ranking person has done so. Moreover, the younger / lower-ranking persons should not finish the meal or leave the table before the oldest / highest-ranking person does so. So, they should try to eat at the same pace as the others especially the oldest / highest-ranking person. However, nowadays, perhaps because of the influence of the Western culture, this rule is not observed by young people who eat with their friends.
Although the hot or spicy Korean food may make your nose running, you should not blow your nose at the table. That’s considered very rude by the Koreans. Blowing your nose should be done in the toilet.
If you want to cough or sneeze, do so by turning your head to one side and covering your mouth with the handkerchief.
You should use the spoon for rice and soup and chopsticks for the other food.
You should not pick up your rice bowl or soup bowl to eat. You should leave them on the table while eating. However, you should not bend down too close to the bowl or dishes while eating.
You should not stick your chopsticks vertically into the bowl of rice since it is similar to the ancestral rites.
Hold or use either the chopsticks or the spoon but not both at the same time. So, if you are eating food with the chopsticks and want to switch to the spoon, put the chopsticks down on the table first and then pick up and use the spoon.
Even if the food is hot, you should not blow the food to cool it down.
You should not make too much noise while eating.
Paying for the Meal
When dining in a group, Koreans seldom ‘go dutch” or share the bill. Usually the oldest / highest-ranking person pays for the meal and the others may repay by buying the oldest / highest-ranking person coffee afterwards.
Useful Korean Phrases
Before you start the meal, you say “잘 먹겠습니다” (literally means “I will eat well” and sounds like “jal meok get seum ni da”) to the person paying for the meal or the host (if you are invited to dine at a Korean’s home). Having finished the meal, you say “잘 먹었습니다” (literally means “I ate well” and sounds like “jal meo geot seum ni da”) to the person paying for the meal or the host.
“잘 먹겠습니다” and “잘 먹었습니다” are the phrases used to thank the person paying for the meal or the host for the meal before and after you eat respectively. However, while I studied Korean in South Korea, when dining with my friends, even if we would ‘go dutch’, we still used these two phrases to express that we would enjoy or had enjoyed the meal. You can watch this video to learn how to say these phrases and their meaning.
When dining with Koreans, don’t forget to observe the above Korean table manners. Happy eating! 🙂
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 23 April 2015. Watch this space!
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“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Interesting things about Korean food and eating” dated 31 March 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Bibimbap” dated 2 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Bulgogi” dated 9 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Samgyeopsal” dated 14 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Samgyetang‘ dated 16 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Kimchi” dated 23 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Chimaek (Fried Chicken and Beer)” dated 28 April 2015
“Korean table manners“, Seoulistic.com, 2012-07-29
Sonja Vegdahl and Ben Seounghwa Hur, CultureShock!: a survival guide to customs and etiquette. Korea (7th ed.), Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2012, pp. 156-157
이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의, 《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 22-23쪽
“Korean table etiquette“, Korea Tourism Organization
“Table etiquette“, Korea Tourism Organization
“Table manners“, Korean Food Foundation