Korean Manners and Etiquette Part 3: Bowing
As mentioned in the earlier posts age and seniority is very important and has a big influence on Korean customs. However it can be sometimes confusing for foreigners and let rise questions such as when to bow? Or how to bow?
The easiest 2 rules to follow is to bow whenever the other person bows and to bow whenever you are greeting a senior. When bowing it’s expected that the younger person or the person in a lower social position will bow lower, but the senior person will initiate the bow.
1. Casual bows
A casual bow is meant for greeting close or similar ranked colleagues and in situation when you cannot perform the deeper bows (eg. in very crowded places). It is also acceptable when you run into the same senior several times during the day.
2. Belly-button bows
This kind of bow is a formal respectful bow mostly used by women in uniforms such as flight attendants and salespeople. The term comes from the fact that the hands are clasped together at the belly button position when bowing. The degree of bowing depends on the occasion but the 45º is the most common.
3.The big bow
Besides the casual and more respectful bows, there are the knees-to-the-ground big bows or deep bows that are reserved for special occasions such as holidays, weddings, funerals, jesa (ancestral rituals) and showing of extreme regretfulness or gratitude.
4. The don’ts while bowing
4.1 Don’t bow deeper to someone when you are already with another person who is that someone’s senior.
4.2 Don’t say silent while bowing (unless you’re in an environment where you have to be quiet) Say hello! Say goodbye! Say thank you!
4.3 Don’t try to bow while moving, e.g. walking, running, jogging. Take your time to stand still and deliver a proper greeting.
4.4. Don’t maintain eye contact while bowing.