Did you know 90% of the world’s seaweed consumption comes from Korea, and it’s also the country that gave the world “Gangnam Style”? But, in addition to these modern fun facts, Koreans have many ways of honoring traditions that go back centuries. There is so much history to explore, and their customs and traditions are nearly innumerable and so many are steeped in the importance of being kind. We listed the 6 most striking things that we can learn from the Korean culture. Read on, and perhaps you can apply some Korean wisdom to your daily routines.
Kibun plays a big role in South Korea. It is a word that cannot be translated literally, but it comes closest to terms such as pride, face (figuratively), mood, feelings or state of mind. If you hurt someone's kibun, you hurt their pride, which makes them lose their dignity and face. Are you the ‘peacekeeper’ in your personal life, since you want to make sure everyone feels seen and heard? Then you’re already practicing kibun, the principle of harmony. In Korean, it is important to always maintain a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere, even if it means telling a white lie. On the work floor, a manager's kibun is damaged if his employees do not show proper respect. And vice versa, an employees’ kibun is damaged if his manager criticises him in public. The kibun of a person may vary, depending on the norms and values that someone grows up with. It is important to know how to assess the state of someone else's kibun, how to avoid hurting the other person and how to preserve your own kibun at the same time.
Pronounced ‘noon-chi’, this is another term you may not have heard before. It refers to an ancient Korean art and it was first introduced to the country around 2,500 years ago. Nunchi translates as ‘eye measure’ and it describes the subtle art of determining the thoughts and feelings of another person to build trust, harmony, and connection. In short: it is the ability to identify someone’s kibun by using your eyes properly. As mentioned above, it is essential to judge another person's state of mind and to maintain the person's kibun.
But how do you train and practice the art of nunchi? It is achieved by looking very closely at body language and listening to the tone and what is being said. It is a mixture of tact, perceptiveness, having a good grasp of social situations and possessing an instinctive sense of how to read a given encounter, alongside knowing how to respond to it. In other words, it’s the act of grasping what other people are thinking and learning how to anticipate their needs. So, a lot of it comes down to gauging the moods of others.
Do you often experience that whenever you enter a room, you know who is feeling down, happy, or sad within a split second? Then you have a ‘quick nunchi’. For Koreans it is also an important pillar in personal relationships. Those with the best nunchi can understand the feelings of their partners and friends from their body language and words. They then use these unconscious signals to make those around feel understood. Essentially, it’s a lesson in emotional intelligence.
Let’s take a dive into the Korean cuisine. If you are planning to adjust your eating habits by cooking slightly healthier, take a closer look in a Korean kitchen. Korean food is high in fibre, and this helps in improving digestion and promoting overall digestive health. Fermented foods such as Kimchi consist of healthy bacteria called probiotics that aids in digestion and break down the lactose. Korean food even helps in weight loss as it contains less meat and fat. It’s an easy way to be a little bit kinder to yourself.
Hi, my name is
Try this: go stand in front of a mirror and introduce yourself by first using your surname, and then your first name. Sounds a bit odd, right? Well, in Korea it is actually very common to introduce yourself in reverse. Even a second surname (family name) is used, which is shared by everyone of that particular generation. It is very impolite to address someone in Korea with his or her first name. You always address someone with Mrs., Mr. and then the family name. In business, you address someone by his or her professional title, for example Mr. President. Addressing someone by their first name should only be done when you have permission to do so.
In comparison with the east, we westerners are generally straight to the point in our communication and wear our hearts on our sleeves. This may make communicating in Korea a bit challenging if you ever visit, since in Korea 'no' isn’t always used so often. 'No’ is considered bad etiquette. Conversations or discussions can then take a long time because of the avoidance of rejection or refusal. If anxiety is shown verbally or visually, it is a sign that something is not right. Good posture and positive body language (though not excessive) are most beneficial in meetings; patience and politeness should always be maintained. Sometimes it can be beneficial to attentively listen to each other to truly understand what someone's motives are. So, take a big breath in, breathe out slowly, and try not to say ‘no’ directly.
Avoid four, give seven
Koreans are generous people and like to give and receive gifts. Planning on surprising your Korean business partner or pen friend? Make sure you pop by your local cheese shop or syrup waffle boutique to get something that characterises your country. When you’ve found the perfect box of chocolates, please make sure that it contains less or more than four delights. The reason why you should avoid number four at all times, is because in Korean it’s an unlucky number. If you want to make someone smile, go for the amount of seven. This number represents luck and solidarity. In Korean presents are beautifully wrapped, green and yellow are very common or use blue, as this is a lucky colour in South Korea (there is even a shade called 'Seoul blue').
When it comes to surprising your loved ones with beautifully wrapped presents, we can definitely learn from Korea. Do you need some gift inspiration to put a smile on someone’s face? Discover our Gift Finder and find the ideal gift for anyone in just two minutes.