For a business person, conducting business in a foreign country can seem like a fun and exciting opportunity. You get the chance to learn, to grow, to explore this new culture and lifestyle. However, it can also be a minefield. Different cultures have different ways of doing things, and gestures that may be considered ordinary or complimentary in your hometown may be deemed rude and unacceptable in this different culture. Therefore, it is essential that you are clued up on how to behave when traveling for business. Do not worry- Mompreneur 360 is here to help. We are going to do the research for you, so you don’t have to. We will be creating these business etiquette guides for many different destinations.
This guide: South Korea.
How should you dress?
When visiting Korea, you should dress modestly. For business occasions, dress conservatively. Women- wear subdued colors. Men- dear suits with white shirts. Do not wear jewelry if you are a man- the only acceptable jewelry is your wedding ring or your watch.
What do you talk about?
You can talk about subjects that you feel comfortable discussing, and you know that others feel comfortable discussing. Such subjects include sports, health, weather, hobbies and the achievements of South Korea and it’s economy. However, you should not discuss anything that can cause friction- the Korean War, politics, socialism, communism.
If someone pays you a compliment, be modest and pay one back. Also, do not be surprised or offended if you are asked personal questions. It is commonplace to be asked such questions as your age and salary.
How to greet someone – personally vs professionally
If you are meeting your friends or someone you have been chatting to online, perhaps someone who have met through an online group, then the etiquette is quite relaxed. You can either make a small, short bow, accompanied by a smile, or a hand wave for both hello and goodbye- although these are more casual than the bow. Bear in mind that these casual meetings are mostly for younger people. The older they are, the more formal or ‘professional’ you must become.
Whatever you do, do not hug someone who you are meeting for the first time. Do not even hug them goodbye. Hugging is for close friends, family and couples.
Hello in Korean is 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo).
When meeting anyone professionally, you must bow. The more serious the meeting, the more respect you should show. Do not give the same small quick bow that you would give to a friend or to a store clerk- the amount of effort that you put into your bow is noticeable, and it is crucial. Show your respect by holding a sharp, low bow for a few seconds. It is also common to accompany your bow with a handshake, however this is more common for men than women.
The more serious the meeting,
the more respect you should show.
Meeting and dining etiquette
Korean etiquette dictates the use of titles rather than names when you are calling another person. For example, instead of calling the business manager ‘Mr Park’ you call them ‘Manager Park’. If you are ever unsure, then ask- it is not uncommon to ask someone what you should call them. If you feel awkward, then pull someone else to the side and ask them for advice.
Business meetings are very serious. As with everything in Korea, you must show your respect. To begin with, schedule the meeting at least three weeks in advance so that both you and they have time to prepare. You should send the agenda and all other meeting materials in advance, in both English and Korean. When you arrive, do not arrive late- this will not create a good impression, and do not take your jacket off unless the person in the room with the most seniority has taken their’s off.
Korean’s like to do business with someone that they are already connected to, so try to have a third party there to initiate business. Having said that, do not expect there to be too much business conducted in the first meeting, as they will probably spend this time getting to know you.
Do not give vague answers to questions –
Korean’s like you to be direct, and they are direct also.
Finally, the business cards. Ensure that you have one side of your card translated into Korean- even if they speak perfect English. When presenting the card, use both your hands to present your business card and present it with the Korean side facing up. If you are given a business card, treat it with the utmost respect, don’t just chuck it in your jacket pocket. Examine it carefully and closely upon receiving, do not write on it, and store it away carefully.
As with everything else, respect needs to be shown when dining. When you arrive, do not sit down until you are told where you should sit. To being eating, the eldest should not only be served first, but should also begin eating first. In Korean culture the food for the table is shared, and you must eat everything that is served to you and try everything on the table to show politeness- definitely do not insult any of the food/ However, to show politeness you must also refuse the first offer of second helpings.
When you arrive, do not sit down until you
are told where you should sit.
Practice using chopsticks before you go to dinner. You must never eat with your hands, pierce food with chopsticks, use chopsticks to point at something or place them parallel across the bowl. Finally, do not tip, it is not customary. This may be a lot to remember, but if you practice a few times with friends then you will be fine.