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Korean¡¯s hesitate to introduce negatives directly. What does this mean?
They try to refrain from saying NO abruptly or hearing it, especially early in the day.

  • If they hear it early in the day, it is not a good thing, as it will set the day¡¯s tone negatively.
  • This practice can come across as beating around the bush and wasting time.
  • It can come across as if they are giving you the run-a-round and you wish they would simply say what they are really thinking or have on their mind.
Note: What you may consider as being straight forward, honest, or open is not always well received by Koreans. Koreans prefer an indirect approach and would rather keep things positive and the mood pleasant

Why do I always have to tell Mr. Kim what to do? I need someone that can work independently and is self-motivated.--- You think this of Mr. Kim

I am such a good employee. Mr. Randall told me to complete this project and I finished it for him. Next, he asked me to research the ABC company and I researched it. -- -Mr. Kim thinks

This way of thinking is rooted in Confucianism. There is a definite hierarchy, everyone has their place and should not try to go beyond. For instance, in the olden days the King said what went and the subject had to do as he was told. Today that same relationship exists however, now it is between boss and employee, father and son (children), husband and wife, elder and younger person. There have been 5,000 years of Confucianism and therefore, it will take time for things to change. Younger people are more open to change and you may already see the change in some of your colleagues.


You will notice that many Korean co-workers usually have lunch together. People rarely eat alone in Korea. This is done because the group mentality is very strong in Korea. People like to stick together and bond. Many times the bonding continues after work, when you may be invited out for drinks. Some Koreans understand that foreigners like to eat alone at times and do not think much of it. Sometimes they may think we are trying to separate ourselves from the group or are turning down their offer to bond. If you know you are not able to attend many of the company outings, make sure you have good excuses so you do not offend the person that invited you. Try to let the person know you really appreciate the invitation.

Korean people see themselves as a member of a group or whole first, then as an individual. This same philosophy applies at home.


  • Sports : golf, basketball
  • Korea : the beauty of the country, some dishes you enjoy (keeping things positive)
  • Exercise : well being, organic foods, healthy dishes
  • Universities you attended abroad
  • Do not try to draw comparisons between Korea and Japan
  • Foreign travel
  • Jokes usually do not translate well, same goes for idioms
    ¡°I will kill two birds with one stone¡±

  1. Respected another persons belongings, taking or borrowing without asking is a big No, No
  2. Do not put your feet on your desk or another colleague¡¯s desk, this is seen as rude and improper
  3. Use your finger to beckon someone over, use your entire hand instead
  4. Be patient when waiting to use a copy machine and other equipment that is shared, impatience is seen as a very bad personal trait.
  5. Why don¡¯t Korean people wait for others to exit the elevator/subway before they enter? It is because you are a stranger and they have the hurry, hurry mentality out on the street. The same is true when you are driving, even if you signal, many drivers may not let you make a lane change.
  6. Openly flirting with a co-worker
  7. Wearing clothing that is too tight, revealing or loud is not good
  8. Some of your co-workers do not wait in line and just cut in front of you in the restroom or throughout the office, make sure you let them know in a nice way you were there first and to please wait their turn
  9. In the lunch room your work colleagues make too much noise, like slurping and chewing with their mouth open. Know that they are not trying to be rude, but for many Koreans, this is how they savor their food.
  10. After lunch some of your co-workers return to the office and may be flossing, or using a toothpick at their desk or merely sucking food out of their teeth, which you feel is rude
  11. Why are there so many toothbrushes in the office bathroom? Many Koreans eat kimchi with their meals and are aware that the garlic in it is very strong, they do not wish to offend with their breath and so they brush their teeth after every meal.
  12. You will be asked many person questions; this is done so they can get to know you and to find out who owes who respect, page 64
  13. You may notice that seniority is regarded as more important than ability
  14. Many Koreans feel that foreigners speak too loud, lowering your voice a bit might be the solution
  15. Knowing a handful of Korean words or phrases can go a long way, pages 55-56
  16. Why do Koreans always fight over who will pay for the bill/check/tab? Everyone is trying to be very generous.
  17. In Korea if you seem really busy, usually your co-workers will try to help you out. Koreans tend to feel that foreign co-workers only care about themselves and their work and will not try to help another co-worker out if they are overwhelmed with work. Many Korean co-workers think of each other as friends.
  • Why are people offering me beer in their glass? This is seen as bonding. If you do not like this practice and are concerned about germs, have a good excuse ahead of time, to save face. For instance, oh I am catching a cold and do not wish to give you my cold.
  • You will be offered many drinks. If you are not a big drinker what should you do? Work on that same drink for as long as you can. If you still have alcohol in your glass, then you will not be offered another drink until your glass is empty.
  • The next day, people are not supposed to talk about who got really drunk or behaved silly during the outing

Be careful when a statement is phrased in a negative way. For example: Philip you can¡¯t come with me to the Johnson meeting can you?
What will happen is that Philip will respond Yes. When he responds Yes, he is agreeing withthe statement you made, that Yes, he cannot go to the Johnson meeting.

A better way to phrase it would be : Philip can you come to the Johnson meeting with me?
This way if Philip answers Yes or No, everything will be clear. If Philip answers Yes, it means he can attend If Philip answers No, then it means he cannot attend


In the common expatriate communities the novelty has worn off, however, the further outside of Seoul you go the more people will stare because you look different. In smaller towns many Koreans are not used to seeing or being around foreigners. People will want to touch your child or stare at both of you a great deal. How should you deal with this?


There are so many things that in our own countries we took for granted, like going to the supermarket and asking where the sugar is located. Here in Korea something as simple as this suddenly becomes complicated because of the language barrier. The best thing do to is be patient, things will get easier, and carry a simple English/Korean dictionary with you in which the words are written out phonetically or in Romanized letters.

You want to purchase an item and want to know more about it, but the clerk cannot speak English. Help is available; you can send us an email at relo@apexrelo.com and we will try our best to help. Keep in mind that there are certain areas where English is spoken more; usually these areas are expatriate communities. The further out of Seoul you go, the less English people will speak or understand.

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