If you really want to impress someone whilst in Korea, just speaking their language won’t do the trick. However, by showing them your practical knowledge of the Korean table manners will surely get anyone to like you.
When you are out eating with Koreans, or especially if you have been invited to their house, knowing your way around Korean table manners is an incredibly nifty way to show your respect towards the local culture. Here are some Korean table manners you should definitely be aware of:
Korean Table Manner #1: Remember Rank
Whenever you are out for a company outing involving food, or visiting the family of your significant other or a friend, it’s important to be seated based on the social ranking of the group. The younger or lower ranked member of the group you are, the closer to the door you should sit, and only after your elders have already sat down.
Korean Table Manner #2: Oldest Eats First
Let those older than you to begin eating first before you start. That’s why Koreans make an effort to ask your age early on. That way, they know how to treat you in these types of situations.
Korean Table Manner #3: Tell That You Will Eat Well
Before taking your first bite, it’s important to say that you will eat well, as a way of acknowledging that you are looking forward to the meal you are about to have. In Korean, this is expressed with the words Jalmeokgesseumnida (잘먹겠습니다), which in English would translate to ‘I will eat well’.
Korean Table Manner #4: Match Eating Speed
Try to manage eating at the same pace as those around you. If you notice that you are going to be finished with your food while everyone is still on their first few bits, you might want to slow it down. On the other hand, if you’ve barely touched your food and everyone else is almost done, it’s time to chow down!
Korean Table Manner #5: No Lifting
Unlike in many other Asian countries, in Korea it’s unusual to lift your rice or soup bowl while eating your meal. Please keep it on the table throughout the meal, and use your spoon to eat the rice instead of chopsticks.
Korean Table Manner #6: Utensil Etiquette
You should hold your spoon and chopsticks in different hands. Also, try using only one utensil at the time.
Korean Table Manner #7: Big and Small Plates
A lot of the Korean dishes are served on one big platter and served among all the eaters, so take advantage of the small individual plate you have for eating the food.
Korean Table Manner #8: Alcoholic Drink Etiquette
Especially in the case of an alcoholic drink, pour drinks for others first, and let someone else pour yours! If you see an elder with an empty glass, try to fill it up as soon as possible. If your elders offer you a drink, unless there is an extreme reason why you cannot drink, don’t refuse it.
As for actual drink pouring etiquette, hold your cup with both hands when you have alcohol being poured into it. Also, hold the bottle with both hands when it’s your turn to pour the alcohol. Alternatively, you can also place one of your hands under your pouring arm when pouring or lightly over your elbow if you are the one receiving the drink.
Korean Table Manner #9: Chopstick Placement
What is also considered quite rude among Koreans is if you stick your chopsticks straight into your bowl of rice. This is because it resembles what happens at a funeral ceremony, which you definitely don’t want to think about at dinnertime!
Keep your chopsticks on top of the bowl or beside the bowl on the table instead. It’s advisable to put your utensils back on the table once you’re finished with your meal, although a lot of Koreans also leave them on top of their plates or inside the bowl, provided that it’s empty.
Korean Table Manner #10: Timing Your Finish
Finish your meal only once the oldest ones have finished with their meals, and try your hardest to finish everything in your bowl or plate.
Other Korean Table Manners to Consider:
- Do not, under any circumstances, blow your nose at the table. If you need to cough or sneeze, turn your head so that you aren’t facing the table.
- Don’t be afraid to eat a lot. Especially in the company of older generation Koreans, they will be very delighted to see how much you can eat. They come from times when food wasn’t as accessible, so it’s nice for them to see you not have to struggle in the same way.
- Want to seem extra polite? Beat others to the punch by being the first one to set up everyone’s utensils and napkins, and pour water into their glasses or cups, and so on.
- In restaurants where you grill your own meat and stir your own soup, usually one person of the party is given the duty to be in charge of the grilling and the stirring. Cheer everyone up by volunteering! Go the extra mile and even give out the portions to all the people out eating with you.
- Sharing is caring! Though there are plenty of instances where instead of ordering one big pot of food, you’l get several different dishes (you ordering what you would prefer and the others ordering what they are in the mood for). However, it’s still normal among Koreans to share all the food in front of them with everyone they are eating with. Don’t be shy to offer them a taste of your meal, and do accept it if they offer you a taste of theirs.
- You might also want to thank your hosts after the meal. A good way to express this is the word Jalmeokeosseumnida (잘먹었습니다). Literally translated, this means ‘I ate well’.
At first, these tips might seem like a lot to handle, but it’s rather easy to remember and get accustomed to them. And now that you are the master of them, you can impress anyone! Got invited to a company dinner? No problem! Planning to attend a Korean Thanksgiving meal with your friend’s extended family? You’re all set!
What Korean table manners do you think are most important? Let us know in the comments below!
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