Culture Shock: Greetings [South Korea]


  • Bowing is used to show respect to a person’s senior. Friends do not bow with each other unless in public or a formal occasion. Waving to a friend or someone your close with is fine. Bows are sometimes combines with a handshake.
  • Person of lower status bows to the person of higher status. Most senior person initiates the handshake.
  • The person who initiates the bow says one of the following depending on the situation:

안녕하세요= hello

안녕하십니까= hello

만나서 반갑습니다= pleased to meet you

감사합니다= thank you

  • Wait to be introduced in social gathering
  • When leaving a social gathering you must bow to each person.


To show respect when shaking hands support your right forearm with your left hand.

Sometimes you can use both hands to grasp the other persons hand.

It is can be rude for a man to offer a woman a handshake. Women usually do not offer handshakes first.


Posture is important in bowing. Here are the following types of bows:

  • Casual: used with close or similarly ranked colleagues or friends. Used in cramped spaces like elevators or public transportation. Used when you run into the same senior multiple times in a day.
  • Respectful 30-45 Bow: used to greed almost anyone.
  • 배꼽인사 (“Belly button” Bow/Navel Bow): formal bow, mostly used by women in uniform like flight attendants, and salespeople. hold hand together at navel with 45 bow.
  • 90도 인사 (90 Bow): most respectful bow.
  • 세배 saebe (New Years Bow):
Hand Positions: 
Man’s Saebe
Woman’s Saebe:
Formal: Used for special occasions like weddings
  • 큰절 (The Big Bow): Used weddings, funerals, greeting a senior after long period of absence and to show extreme remorse/gratitude.


  • DO NOT bow deeper to a person whose senior is present
  • DO NOT bow “down” (if on stairs get on the same or lower level)
  • DO NOT use silent bow unless in an environment where you must be quiet, always accompany with a greeting
  • DO NOT bow while moving, stand till and give proper greeting
  • DO NOT make eye contact while bowing, unattractive pose (bird pose)
  • DO NOT swing arms, keep hands at your side
  • **Bowing with hands in prayer pose is only used for religious setting
**photos & info:

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