South Korea: Conversation



General Guidelines

You may be asked personal questions regarding your age, salary, religion, and family life. If you don’t want to answer, remain polite but try to gracefully side step such questions. In most cases, people make these inquiries because they think that they can establish rapport by finding common denominators. These questions may also be asked to determine your status–which means everything in South Korean business culture. For the age/status conscious Koreans, it is important to guess and/know the approximate age or relative status of their counterparts.

Modesty is very important in South Korea. When you are paid a compliment during a conversation, you may say that you are not worthy of such praise. If the giver of the compliment has significant international experience, you can simply say ‘Thank You’ for his or her kind remarks. However, you can compliment another person, since these comments are still very much appreciated. At the same time, singling out one person in a group may embarrass the receiver.

Generally, Koreans have an intense pride in their country and a rich sense of its history. Consequently, it is important that you make every effort not to confuse the history and culture of Korea with other Asian countries, especially Japan. Some older Koreans who grew up under the Japanese colony many not appreciate gifts from Japan or comparison of Korea with Japan.

Answer questions affirmatively and in the most positive way, even when you have to deliver negative information. If you are declining a request for a favor, you should sound very apologetic.

Be concise and direct in your response. When you are asked a question, remember that ‘less is more’, so get right to the point without being rude.

Tone down hand motions and facial expressions when talking. Being too animated is frowned upon.

Welcome Topics of Conversation

South Korea’s cultural heritage

South Korea’s economic success, especially in telecommunication

Korea Wave (Hallryu, including K-Pop)

South Korean companies’ international accomplishments

Fashion and design

Sports [especially accomplishment in golf, baseball, and the Winter Olympics, just general well-being of a family, such as ‘Is your family well?’]

Personal hobbies

Topics to Avoid

Korean politics/local politics

Personal family matters other than asking their well-being