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.

And if you are unsure whether to bow or not, it’s better to just bow. You will never offend a person by bowing, but you may offend a person by not bowing.

There are different types of bows for different occasions, including apologies or thankfulness. Let’s have a look on them!


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.

We hope that this short description will help you at everyday occasions, but also don’t forget that Koreans have become more international  and familiar with Western customs over the past decades, so they are usually very understanding of any mistakes that foreigners make^^.