South Korean Customs
The remnants of 500 years of Confucianism (1392 - 1910) still dictate the ways people interact in South Korea.
Visiting a South Korean Home
It is customary to bring a small gift when visiting a South Korean home. It's better to bring a small token and not an ostentatious object that calls attention to you. Fruit, flowers, and chocolates are popular gifts for these occasions.
South Koreans generally sit, eat, and sleep on the floor, so you will be expected to remove your shoes upon entering a South Korean home and some schools and restaurants. Bare feet may be offensive to people of the older generations, so it's best to wear socks when visiting (be sure they're clean and free of holes!
Eating and Drinking
In addition to chopsticks, South Koreans regularly use soup spoons at meals.
Paying when Socializing
Among young people, the person who issued the invitation usually pays. If you're out with a group, the bill is split and everyone pitches in. Among older Koreans, one person will take care of the bill, and roles will switch the next time.
Tipping is not a traditional Korean custom; however, a 10 percent service charge is added to bills at all tourist hotels and tipping is not expected. It's never necessary to tip a taxi driver unless he assists you with your luggage or takes you to or from the airport.
South Koreans are averse to overt physical contact between members of the opposite sex. They generally limit interpersonal contact to a courteous handshake; however, very good friends are often physical with each other, so don't be surprised to see men and women walking hand-in-hand with a member of the same sex. Public displays of affection between couples, like hugging and kissing, are considered very improper.
South Korean public baths, moyoktang, are wonderful. After a long, stressful day, there's nothing like a steamy sauna and bath to wash away your troubles. Moyoktang are found throughout the city and cost about W2,352 (US$2.85). There are usually showers to use before entering the hot tub. Many places also have a cold water tank, which is amazingly refreshing after a piping hot sauna. A special feature of the baths is the underwear-clad massage. For about W6,000-W8,000 ($7.30-$9.70 plus tip) the masseuses will scrub you down with hot water and towels, removing all traces of grime. You've never known the true meaning of "squeaky-clean" until you've experienced the wonderful traditions at the public bath.