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Korean Culture

Koreans consider their language as their most distinctive trait. Koreans write, speak and understand a language which is closer to Hungarian, Finnish or Turkish then it is to other Asian languages. Although they have their own efficient phonetic alphabet developed in the 15th century, they use Chinese ideographs for some proper names and technical terms.

During your tour in Korea, you'll have ample opportunity to study the Korean language. Many bases have free on-duty or off-duty language classes. English is taught in Korean schools as a first foreign language. When you talk to Koreans in English, speak slowly to increase your chances of being understood. If you still have difficulties getting your message across, write it down using short words. If this fails, simply show the phrases written in one of the many available phrase books. The following Korean phrases may assist you during your visit to Korea.

English/Korean Translation

Good Morning/afternoon/evening. An-nyong ha-seh-yo.
I'm glad to meet you. Mahn-nah-so bahn-gah-wo-yo.
Goodbye (by host) Ahn-nyong-hee kah-seh-yo.
Goodbye (by guest) Ahn-nyong-hee kay-seh-yo.
May I have your name? Ee-ru-mee moo-ot-shim-nee-ka?
How much does it cost? Ol-mah eem-nee-ka?
I'll take this. Ego ju-seh-yo.
Do you speak English? Young-oh hahm-nee-ka?
Please take me to the nearest U.S. military installation. Kah-kah-woon mee-koon boo-dae-ro kahp-she-dah.
How much is the fare? Ol-mah eem-nee-ka?
I want to get off in Itaewon. Itaewon-eh-so neh-ryo ju-seh-yo.
Stop here. Yo-gee se-wo ju-seh-yo.


Korean Names

Korean names usually have three parts: the family or surname placed first, and a name identifying the generation, alternating each generation to second or third place with the given personal name. Example: Suh Byung-su and his brother Suh Byung-min are from the Byung generation while their father Suh In-sok is from the Sok generation.

There are only around 200 family names in Korea and the five most frequent -- Kim, Pa(r)k, Yi (Lee), Choi (Choe) and Oh -- cover about 70 percent of the population. Because of the inconsistencies of translating names from Hangul to Roman characters, spellings of these names vary. For instance, Yi is also spelled in English as Lee and Rhee. Fortunately, Asians exchange business cards upon meeting, so you can refer to them to keep separate in your mind the three Misters Kim you'll meet at one party. Be prepared to hand over your card.

Korean women keep their maiden names after marriage and do not assume their husbands' surname. Children carry their father's surname. Family names are traditional clan names and each has a village from which it comes. Thus, there is a difference between Kim who comes from Kwong-ju and Kim who comes from Kimhae.

If at all possible, Koreans avoid calling a person directly by his name. Instead they use his title, position, trade, profession, scholastic rank or some honorific form such as "teacher." Parents often are addressed as the equivalent of "Jimmy's mommy" or "Susie's daddy," rather than "Mrs. Kim."


Although many of the Koreans with whom you come into contact will be familiar with American habits and mannerisms, the traditional values are still strong. It is considered a personal affront to touch another person unless that person is a relative or close personal friend. The only exception to this rule is that Koreans will touch children, not only Western children, to show their warm affection. This is a compliment to let the child know how cute he is.

You should avoid writing a person's name in red. This indicates death because a deceased person's name is crossed off with red ink in the town register upon his death. However, a Korean name seal is always printed in red.

Koreans shake hands like Westerners. Koreans believe that direct eye contact during conversations show boldness, and out of politeness they concentrate on the conversation, usually avoiding eye-to-eye contact.

When passing a gift, or any object to someone, use both hands. The right hand is used to pass the object, while the left hand is used in support. If the person receiving the gift is older, the person offering the gift bows the head slightly as a sign of respect. Passing with one hand is acceptable if the person receiving the gift is younger or lower in stature.

Remove your shoes when entering a Korean home or temple. When putting shoes back on at a temple, never sit on the steps with your back to the area of worship


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