•    Table Etiquette   

    You know how you eat. Whether it’s a delightful sight or not, that’s up to you. But before you dine at a Korean restaurant or in a Korean household, you might want to take a lesson in proper Korean dining etiquette before you begin stuffing your face with rice and kimchi. It may not matter to you that you’re a messy eater and that you eat as soon as a dish touches the table, but to Koreans, there’s a fine line in dining. It’s an important part of Korean culture that is not to be taken lightly, especially with elders around.

    Let’s start with the sujeo, or the eating utensils. There are three basic utensils you will find on the table: a pair of stainless steel chopsticks (jeotgarak, 젓가락), a long, stainless steel spoon (sutgarak, 숟가락), and a stainless steel bowl (filled with rice of course!).

    What do you need to know about these utensils? Here’s a list for you – a very, very important list. Remember it!

    1. The spoon is for the rice, soup, and stew. The chopsticks are for the side dishes. Don’t use both utensils at the same time because it is considered bad manners.
    2. Try not to leave any traces of food on the spoon. If you see a speck of seaweed hugging onto the belly of the spoon, lick it clean!
    3. Never ever – and we mean EVER – leave your chopsticks inserted in the rice bowl. This is a ceremonial act performed in memorial services for the dead.
    4. Try not to make an excessive amount of noise while picking up your food. Yes, sometimes it just can’t be helped – the utensils have to touch, but you’re not playing the drums here. Eat delicately and no one will glare at you.
    5. When you finish eating, place the utensils in its original position.

    Okay, so now you know how to tackle the basic utensils.

    Next, the table settings.

    Traditional Koreans don’t usually dine like everyone else. Yes, if you go to a typical Korean restaurant in New York City, you’ll be seated on chairs and you’ll be eating on high tables. But traditionally, Koreans tend to sit on cushions and dine on low tables. The floors are heated by a heating system known as ondol, so there’s no need to worry about cold feet and such. Your buttocks will be 100% comfortable.

    And finally, the table manners.

    Sorry to say but the list is coming back. It makes it easier for the all of us.

    1. In all cultures, elders are respected, but that’s not the case here. In Korean culture, the elders are highly respected – treat them as God if you must. This being said, you should never seat yourself before your elders, nor should you eat before them. Remain at the table until they have finished eating.
    2. When the food is set on the table, you should try the soup or stew first and then try the rice and side dishes.
    1. Soups, stews, and meat dishes are served in large family-size dishes as opposed to individual servings. Don’t feel disgusted – it’s a matter of respect and relationships. Koreans believe that eating from the same bowl will bring a relationship closer. You can eat directly from the main dish or serve yourself an individual bowl or plate before eating.
    2. Accept the food that is offered to you, even if you don’t like it. Nibble it if you have to but don’t leave the food untouched.
    3. Drinking – I know you’ve been waiting for this. You’d think that drinking with company would be an easy task – get a shot glass, tap each other’s glass or raise your glass, and shoot it down. No, unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In Korean culture, drinking is an important part of doing business. Always fill your company’s glass if it’s empty, but never fill you own empty glass. Tradition is that you should never serve yourself, so wait for your company to serve you. If they don’t, well, then you’re out of luck. Wait until your guest leaves before you get drunk on your own.

    And there you have it. Of course, you don’t need to follow all these rules if you’re dining with someone whom you’re more familiar with. How can you tell? Here a rule of thumb: if you can make fun of this person without hard feelings, then neglect all that you’ve just read.


    1. “Korean Table Manners .” Marimari. Hotnet Sdn.Bhd., n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://www.marimari.com/content/korea/food/main.html>.
    2. “Table Etiquette.” Korea Tourism Organization. Korea Tourism Organization , n.d. Web. 1 Jan. <http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/FO/FO_EN_6_2_1.jsp>.