networking etiquette
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Updated 6 months ago

In Seoul, as in the rest of South Korea, social behaviours are highly regulated and hierarchical, and this can be especially noticeable during professional meetings or when you want to build a professional network. To integrate successfully when it comes to the professional world when engaging with the job market or attending work-related events, you will need to adopt humble and respectful behaviour.

You will also need to be aware of the hierarchical codes of Korean society, for example, while it will not be considered disrespectful for a much older person to behave in a slightly more familiar way with you, you will nevertheless need to maintain a formal level of language and body language towards your elders.

How to behave in Seoul

In meetings

The very first rule you will encounter is that of greeting. Obviously, in Asia, there is no question of greeting by kissing the cheeks as is often the custom in Europe, and a handshake will not be automatic, particularly with locals. To greet Koreans, bow slightly - this also applies to saying goodbye and thank you.

In Seoul, during official presentations, exchange your business cards with others. To do this, you must present the card with both hands. If the person you meet is of a higher social or professional level than yours, you will be able to address them by their last name followed by the suffix "ssi" (which is the equivalent of the Mrs. / Sir) and his position if you know it.

You may well be asked your age. If the person is the same age as you, you can ask them if the use of first names is possible. If the person is younger, it is up to you to decide what suits you.

 Good to know :

To look someone directly in the eyes can be perceived as impolite.

Social relationships

Korean social rules can leave some perplexed. For example, you should not blow your nose in public (and certainly never eat in a public setting), but sniffing is perfectly acceptable.

During the course of discussions, don’t thank people too much, as this could embarrass your Korean interlocutor and be perceived as rude. You will have to find the right balance while still expressing gratitude.

If you are invited for dinner, you must also respect a particular hierarchy. Guests must wait for the oldest or most important person at the table to sit down and start eating first and then follow them. At the table, you should never put your chopsticks in the rice to be eaten with a spoon (contrary to Japanese habits), and the bowl should not be held by hand.

If you drink alcohol, do not serve yourself. Wait for this to be poured for you before serving the others (it is difficult to refuse without appearing rude). Extend your drink with both hands and do not drink while looking at someone directly.

If you are invited by a person older or “better placed” than you, social codes dictate that this person will probably pay for the entire meal. It is therefore expected that you offer a "second round" - this could be a dessert, a coffee or a drink, for example.

The dress code in Seoul

Koreans, especially in Seoul, are known for their professional attire. Men wear suits and ties from the moment they take a job in an office setting, arriving to and leaving work in the same professional outfit. Women wear suits or professional outfits. Pay attention to necklines and the length of your skirt if applicable - it is best to be discreet, with shoulders covered.

In Seoul, you will rarely be too well dressed, while being too casual can make you feel uncomfortable and will attract attention.

Discussions to avoid in Seoul

During meetings, you will need to take steps to avoid conflict, so do not directly confront a person with whom you would disagree, and especially do not show any signs of anger.

As a general rule, you should avoid getting carried away during the discussions - whether for good or bad! Staying measured is perceived positively in Korea.

Talking about politics can be risky, especially in terms of relations between North Korea and South Korea and tensions between Japan and South Korea. It is advisable to keep these topics for discussions between friends or at least for those you already know.

If your opinion is asked on a thorny subject, don’t hesitate to remain vague and to employ diplomacy.

To conclude, while interactions with expatriates will be smoother, in professional dealings, it is best to respect the formalities and etiquette outlined above.

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