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A tough place to be a bear

Firm handshakes rather than hugs

June 01,2003
The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Mr. Hurlbert, who wrote to us from Seoul:

Q. Ms. Hurlbert:
In the United States, where I grew up, everyone hugs these days: close relatives, sports teammates, even on occasion strangers. Sometimes I think we Americans hug too much. But I never see Koreans hug. A hearty handshake seems to do it. It’s almost as if Koreans are afraid to get physically close. I know it’s probably a cultural thing, this uneasiness about hugging, but many Koreans are now traveling abroad where hugging is an accepted part of the landscape.

Do you think hugging will ever really catch on in Korea?

A. IHT-JAD:
Most Koreans find casual hugging uncomfortable, as hugging is considered a powerful emotional gesture. When family members are reunited after years apart, for example, they will hug in public. An increasing number of Koreans who have spent a long time abroad are used to the Western custom of greeting and welcoming, however, so ever so gradually Koreans are getting used to it.


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