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Years ago, a show was on television that showed a young Black man upset over the fact that an Asian business owner consistently refused to shake his hand.  The young man was taught that you shake the hands of an older man as a sign of respect.  He also knew that some people didn’t want to touch Black people because they feel that Black people are dirty or for fear that the Black would come off onto them.  (Sadly, I’ve met people who admitted that they thought Black skin was dirty and that they tried to take it off of people using rubbing alcohol.)  Many older Korean people will sometimes do the same thing.  But why don’t some Koreans shake hands?  Is it a racist thing on their part?  Or is it something more?

A Show of Respect

In Korean culture, you bow before people when you greet them.  The way you bow shows the level of respect you are showing the person.  It would be very rare that you would bow low enough to touch your feet.  But the deeper the bow, the more respect you would show a person.  Doing a slight bow may not be entirely disrespectful.  Close friends who love each other like family will do a slight bow to each other.  But bowing is the proper way to greet someone in Korean culture.  Does this mean that Koreans never shake hands?  No.  Some Koreans will shake your hand.  Usually they will do this with two hands to show respect.  When you hand someone anything, use two hands to show formal respect to them.

In the case of this television show, the young Black man didn’t know that business owner was Korean and was just being respectful.  He was happy that this young man chose to support his business and wanted to show him the best level of respect possible.   Once the young man learned this, he bowed before the business owner each time he came in.  The point?  Sometimes things that seem racist or offensive really isn’t that way at all.  It can be just a different way of doing things.  So if you ever meet a Korean person who does not shake your hand and bows before you, bow back to them.  In this way, you will be showing respect and will be respected back in return.

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