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Social Interaction Posted by on Nov 25, 2008 in Culture

Are you worried about making a fool of yourself in front of a Korean family?  Have you been invited to eat a meal in a Korean household?  If so, I have some tips to help you so that your visit goes smoothly.

Before you arrive at the house make sure you have a small gift ready.  The gift could be a bottle of wine or a box of oranges.  Whatever it is, don’t arrive empty handed.  Since you’re going to be treated to a meal, be considerate and show your appreciation by bringing a small gift.  Also, before you enter the house the host will say “du-ro  o-se-yo” (들어 오세요) which means ‘come in.’  When you hear that, that is your cue to say an-nyung-ha-se-yo (안녕하세요) or hello. 

At this time you can also hand over your gift and say “byul kot ani-ji-man ba-du-se-yo” (별 것 아니지만 받으세요).  This phrase translates as ‘this isn’t anything or this isn’t much, but please accept it anyway.’  Then the host will probably say something to the effect of “sa-o-ji  a-na-do-de-nun-de” (사오지 않아도 되는데)  this phrase translates as ‘you didn’t have to buy anything.’  This is an important social interation that Koreans perform daily.  By claiming that you didn’t bring anything worthy, you are being humble.  In return, by claiming that you didn’t have to buy anything the host is being polite. 

If you’ve been invited to a traditional Korean family, the eldest person is the fist person to pick up their chopsticks and eat.  Only after the eldest person has picked up their spoon or chopstick are you allowed to eat.  If you’re not eating with a traditonal Korean family you may hear the phrase “mani du-se-yo” (많이 드세요).  This means ‘eat to your fill.’  When you hear this, this is your cue to start eating.  Although the host requests you to eat to your fill, be polite and make sure that you eat so that other people can have their share of the food. 

It is also typical to hear a host say, “mani charin kot ob-ji-man mani du-se-yo” (많이 차린 것 없지만 많이 드세요).  This phrase means ‘I haven’t prepared much but please eat to your fill anyway.’  This phrase can seem particularly ironic, especially when there is so much food prepared.  In this case the host is showing humility by understating the situation.  If it does happen to be true that there isn’t much food prepared, don’t reply by agreeing or confirming the host’s comment.  Rather deny or disagree with the host, even when it’s obvious that that’s not the case.

One thing about Korean communication that you should understand is that you shouldn’t always understand a phrase literally.  Korean people tend to state things so as to sound humble and polite.  Don’t abuse this politeness and be considerate.  The host’s politeness is not a license for you to do whatever you wish.  Remember that you should return the host’s politeness by being humble and polite as well. Ok everyone.  That’s it for today.  I know this post wasn’t really helpful but I hope you still learned a lot anyway.  (Did everyone notice my humble comment there? Lol.)

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