Growing up, we are taught by others to never speak when our mouth is full or leave the table without excusing yourself beforehand. These rules may apply to many different countries, but Korea has some different rules that must be followed when having a meal. Here are 10 table manners that you should keep in mind when visiting Korea.
1. Sit in the right place at the right time
In Korea, it is polite to sit down after all the elders have already taken their seats. It is also important to remember that seating is arranged in social ranking whether it is a job ranking or age. The seating is arranged so that the lowest rank sits closest to the door while the others follow.
2. Say thank you before and after
Koreans expect that before every meal, especially if you are eating at another person’s house, you should say “jal meokkessumnida”, which means “I will enjoy the meal” or “I will eat well.” When you finish eating, it is expected that you say “jal meokkeoseumnida”, which means “Thank you for the meal” or “I ate well.”
3. Do not eat first
If there are elders present at the table, you must wait for them to all pick up their utensils first and start eating before you can begin eating.
4. Do not blow your nose at the table
It is acceptable to cough or sneeze if you turn your head away from everyone else at the table to prevent disturbing others. However, blowing your nose at the table is frowned upon and you should wait until you go to the bathroom before you do so.
5. Keep it clean
Make sure that when you eat, you do not double dip or touch multiple pieces of food while getting a piece from the plate. You must also make sure to not use a spoon that has been used to pick up side dishes.
6. Slow down when you eat
Koreans emphasize that you should not rush and stuff yourself with food when there is an elder at the table. You must eat at the same pace as the elders at the table, no matter how hungry you are. It is also important to keep in mind that you must not finish eating before the elder and if necessary you may have to slow down your eating in order to finish last.
7. Elders drink first
When refilling a drink, whether it is tea, water, or soju, you must fill the glass of an elder before you can fill your own.
8. Always accept from elders
If an elder offers you soju at the table, you must not refuse and make sure that you accept the drink humbly as a sign of respect. You must use two hands to hold the cup and drink the soju while looking away from the elder.
9. Take what’s closest to you
When you are trying to reach for a dish, make sure your arm does not stretch across the table and go for dishes that are closer to you.
10. Do not pick up your bowl
As opposed to China and Japan, where people lift their bowls to eat rice, in Korea the bowl must be left on the table. Instead the rice is eaten with a spoon and people alternate from using spoon for rice and soup and the chopsticks to eat side dishes. Do not hold both chopsticks and spoon at the same time.