[ABOUT KOREA]tips on Korean manners

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[ABOUT KOREA]tips on Korean manners

The following tip on Korean manners is in response to Ms. Holt, who wrote to us with a question from Seoul:

Holt: Before moving to Korea, I was advised by a Korean family friend that women do not look straight into the eyes of the person whom they are having a conversation with, especially if the other person is older. Now here I am in Seoul, and I do notice many people, not only women but also men, looking away when they talk. Why?

JAI-IHT: Most westerners believe that when a Korean does not look straight into the eyes of a person whom he or she is speaking to, that person is either lying or hiding something. Looking directly at a person is supposed to mean honesty and sincerity, but in Korea and most Asian countries, looking straight into the person's eyes is considered to be very rude. In some cases, rarely though, it could even be interpreted as challenging someone's authority, or even threatening. Young students are often taught not to look straight at their teachers or senior students. That does not mean Korean people never look in other people's eyes; between close friends, it is commonly done. As is the case in many areas of Korean manners, the relative social status of the two participants in a conversation is important.

If you have any questions or tips on Korean language or customs, please write to estyle@joongang.co.kr
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