Discover Korea: Why do Koreans bow'
June 12, 2009
- Learning local customs helps newcomers
<strong>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea</strong> - You may have seen it in a movie or on television before coming to Korea, but here the tradition of bowing is everywhere.
If you find yourself not knowing how to respond when someone bows to you, you may want to take a moment to learn more about it.
As early as in ancient Egypt, bowing was a symbol of respect and an important religious gesture. European cultures have had a tradition of bowing as well. In Western cultures, only nobility or the aristocracy received a bow, but the tradition of is no longer commonplace in modern times.
Traditional Korean culture emphasized the importance of an intricate greeting system. As early as in the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. until A.D. 669), Koreans used more than 100 gestures when greeting, each appropriate for a specific situation with respect to one's gender, location, degree of respect and seniority.
In modern times, however, bowing in Korea is a part of everyday life. It is sometimes nothing more than a little gesture to go along with a 'thank you' or 'excuse me.'
To make a polite bow, simply lower your upper body by about 15 degrees as a sign of courtesy. You do not have to bow to your close friends, but it is never a bad idea to bow as you say hello to an elderly person.
When introduced to somebody formally for the first time, you should perform a deeper bow of about 30 degrees. Be warned, however, an exaggerated bow may make people feel uncomfortable.
Some common situations when you might bow include when exchanging objects, when asking a question, when asking for a favor, and of course, when someone bows to you first.
As strange as you may feel at first, frequent bowing is one of the most common but historically significant cultural experiences you can participate in while here in Korea. Therefore, the next time somebody bows to you, all you have to do to show your appreciation is simply bow back.