Excerpted from the Korea Career Guide
South Korea is a place where people work hard. This is a nation that has grown from a state of absolute poverty at the end of the Korean War to a First World country with one of Asia’s highest per capita incomes. Such a feat in 60 years is not possible with ‘nine–to-five’ jobs.
Traditional sports, such as tae-kwon-do, a martial art, and ssireum, a style of wrestling, are very popular in Korea. Other favorite sports include handball, volleyball, archery, swimming, baseball, basketball, football (soccer), cycling and skiing.
Fifty percent of Korean men smoke, and many office buildings are equipped with designated smoking rooms. Cigarettes are cheap in Korea, compared to other Western countries, which is among the reasons why smoking is so prevalent in Korea.
Korean people tend to act in a reserved manner. They use few hand gestures, and there is no personal contact beyond the handshake, unless the parties are close friends or family members.
Korean is the official language of business, but many Koreans speak English, and interpreters are mandatory for business dealings when there is a language barrier. That said, it is a good idea for those who work in Korea to learn at least a moderate level of the language.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- Koreans are fond of karaoke, and friends often visit norae bang (song rooms); it is best to join in, even if the attempt is not perfect.
- There may be much pushing and shoving by strangers, particularly in Seoul. The logic is that since people do not know one another, they have no obligations. It is best to take this in stride.
- To beckon a server in a restaurant, say Yogiyo (‘over here’).
- To beckon someone, do so with the palm facing down and fluttering the hand. Holding your palm face up is considered impolite.
- Do not smoke directly in front of a person of higher status. The same applies for drinking. Do not drink directly facing a person of higher status; rather the drinker should turn his or her head to one side and cover the mouth so the other does not literally see the drinking.
When you walk into an office building in Korea, you generally will find everyone hard at work. You will notice workers are generally soft-spoken and quite polite. When they do talk, it is never to brag about themselves; Koreans are modest people.
Koreans make great team players. They grow up with strong family values and are taught that the family is more important than the individual. This is excellent training for business teams. Korean offices emphasize unity and harmony among teams. It is important for co-workers of equal stature to get along well and feel valued. A manager spends a lot of time cultivating this.
Korean business meetings tend to jump from one topic to another, rather than adhere to a strict agenda. When giving a presentation, it is a good idea to pause occasionally to ask if there are any questions. Participants will no doubt pose a few queries. If they remain quiet, it may be that they do not understand or they are not interested in the presentation. If your presentation is particularly lengthy, you may find that participants will leave and return to the meeting throughout the duration of the presentation to take or make telephone calls, smoke, have some refreshments or simply for some relaxation. Because of the proliferation of smartphones, there likely will be people in the room using their gadgets throughout the presentation.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete South Korea Guide.