Korean Etiquette 101 – Why do Koreans use both hands when giving and accepting things? Don’t beckon with your palm facing up or with THIS!
Like bowing, using both hands when giving and accepting something (even if it’s as light as a piece of paper) to and from an older person or someone of higher rank is a sign of respect, and is one of the first things a Korean child must learn growing up.
As to how it’s done, it varies depending on the situation. First, the standard practice is grabbing an item with both hands. That’s the very basic form. Now, suppose if the other person is a little far away from you, and you would have to extend one of your arms, to reach the person. If this is the case, you can place your second hand either under the wrist or elbow of your extended arm, as if you’re supporting it. You can also pass muster by placing your second hand just below your armpit.
Now as for the origin of this bizarre but specific behavior, there is an interesting speculation. Hanbok 한복, the traditional Korean attire, has an oversized sleeve that hangs low. So when pouring alcohol for someone else, you had to pull it a little bit so it doesn’t touch the food, and the habit passed down to become what it is today. But what about between people of your age? If you met them for the first time, use both hands. Once you establish closeness, then you are free to use one hand.
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Korean Etiquette 101 – WHY DO KOREANS USE BOTH HANDS WHEN SHAKING HANDS?
This is pretty much self-explanatory because it goes hand-in-hand (pun intended) with the topic we just covered. Use your right hand for handshake and place the left hand either under the wrist, elbow, belly, or armpit of the right arm.
An interesting point is that handshaking is a Western custom and one-hand handshake is the standard practice, therefore Korean people engaging in a both-hands handshake (sometimes with a 90-degree bow) is a good example of “cultural glocalization”.
Korean Etiquette 101 – DON’T PUT THE FEET UP ON FURNITURE OR SIT CROSS-LEGGED
Korean people find it rude and insincere because it looks disrespectful to the person you are having a conversation with. It’s acceptable between friends.
Korean Etiquette 101 – DON’T TOUCH AN ELDER ON THE HEAD
Touching an elder, no matter how close, on the head is considered rude and must be avoided. It’s acceptable between friends.
Korean Etiquette 101 – DON’T BECKON WITH YOUR PALM FACING UP OR WITH AN INDEX FINGER
The Korean way of saying “come here” is the opposite of the American style. With the palm facing down, hold your hand up about head-high and fingers stretched out and wave in and out. Never use an index finger! It’s considered insulting as it’s for beckoning dogs.
Korean Etiquette 101 – BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE
Business cards are handed and received with both hands to show respect. It is recommended that you rotate your business card to the other side so that the receiving person can read it right away.
Business cards should be handed from the person of lower rank to the person of higher rank. However, if you happen to be visiting, it is recommended that you, the visitor, first present the business card regardless of your status.
When receiving business cards, it is polite to stand up and receive even if the other person is of lower rank. When exchanging business cards simultaneously, give with your right hand, receive with your left hand, and make sure that your fingers are not blocking the other person’s name on the card.
Upon receiving, quietly repeat to yourself the person’s name and position printed on the card.
Finally, don’t put your business card in your wallet or pocket right away, but put it in the lower right corner of your table, and pick it up upon departure.