I remember being in Seoul and taking several tours of the city. With almost half of all South Koreans living in the city of Seoul, there’s a ton to see, do and eat. But for my tours, I spent my time with 2 groups of people. Going around Seoul on a bus and walking around with the same group of people can be exhausting. But not in this case. We all drew close to each other and became friends. This trip taught me I could speak Korean as I was randomly chosen to speak and sing in Korean multiple times.
After my time with the first group came to an end, we were dropped off at our hotel and said our goodbyes to each other. In some ways, we all barely knew each other, but I was very grateful for the time that my tour guides took out for us. If you were raised like me, or if you happen to be named after Winnie The Pooh like I am in Korean, you’d be used to giving people a hug when saying goodbye. However, for one of my tour guides, she seemed nervous for me to give her a hug. Why was this? Can this happen to you? Here’s why this happened to me.
A Lesson in Korean Culture
This woman wasn’t an old woman, and her only child was in her teens. But they weren’t from the Seoul area. In fact, they were from an area that isn’t always an attraction for tourist in Korea. The rules for decorum for her generation and for where she lived was that women didn’t hug men they weren’t related to or real close friends with. However, a woman hugging another woman wasn’t considered a big deal. She wasn’t trying to be offensive at all. It’s just how she was raised and where she was raised that made her feel this way.
As Korean becomes more of an international society and the gateway to Asia, rules like this tend to change. But it is important to remember that not everyone is raised the same way and the level of modesty is different in each location. If you are a hugger, don’t be shocked to find some Koreans who do not feel the same way. If you experience this in Korea, remember that you are in a different country that has different rules. Keeping an open mind will help prevent you from being offended if the way you express yourself isn’t the same as everyone else. As long as you show respect for the culture and the people, you will be given respect as well.