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Friday, June 11, 2010

A Few Counterintuitive Korean Customs

Reaching at the table:
In American culture, it is considered rude to reach across the table, and instead you should ask someone to pass the (stuff). In Korean culture, I believe it is considered rude to ask an elder to pass you something, since you are inconveniencing him during a meal. I don't think this would apply to asking younger people or equals to pass you something, since it's okay to inconvenience them. If you have ever eaten at a Korean restaurant, you know that there will be LOTS of little side dishes all over the table, and so there will be lots of reaching with chopsticks.

Riding in the backseat:
In American culture, the guest of honor gets the privilege of riding in the front seat, as it is usually more comfortable to do so. In Korean culture, the guest of honor rides in the back, presumably because it feels more like you are being served, whereas presumably riding in the front makes it feel like you are helping with navigation. I say presumably because I had never even heard of this custom until 2005, when my uncle and I were spending a week at an industry convention and picked his Korean company's president from an airport.

Pallbearers:
In American culture (and probably other Western cultures, but I don't know for certain), pallbearers at a funeral are the ones who were closest to the deceased. Recently we converted my paternal grandfather's funeral video (Oct 1982) to a DVD. (He was a high status individual, so someone made a video out of his funeral ceremonies) I had never seen it until last week, and it was interesting to me that none of the family members served as pallbearers. In Korean culture, this task is delegated to third parties who are probably unrelated to the deceased, because it is considered inappropriate to burden the closest mourners with the task of carrying the casket.

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  • Iris

    Very interesting! I knew about the first two practices in American culture, but not about the Korean ones. And then, the third one I had no idea about both cultures' practices until our most recent conversation.