7 Things That Upset Koreans, According to Korean Vloggers

7 Things That Get Koreans Upset, According to Korean Vloggers

Don't be touchy. Literally.

What I’m always conscious about whenever I travel to East Asia are the things that might be deemed inappropriate, offensive, or awkward by its locals. Considering that East Asia is composed of the more traditional Asian cultures like Japanese and Korean, tourists need to be a bit more self-aware of their actions. As much as we’re ecstatic to travel to South Korea and visit our favourite K-drama locations, let’s do our homework. With a little help from Korean vloggers and foreign vloggers based in South Korea, it’s time to take note of the things tourists do that upset Koreans!

Also read: 15 Sweet Korean Terms of Endearment That K-Dramas Taught Us

1. Leaving chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice

things that upset koreans

Image credit: Clay Banks

First up is a very basic thing if you know your chopsticks etiquette. Leaving chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is a big no-no not just in Korea, but in most of East Asia. This is because Koreans and Japanese only leave their chopsticks upright whenever they’re at a funeral. Otherwise, placing your chopsticks upright during a casual meal with friends means you’re inviting a bad omen. And nobody wants that!

2. Being noisy on trains

Image credit: Elle Morre

According to Cal McKinley, Koreans are very mindful of the personal space of others, especially on trains or subways where silence is normally observed. In fact, they’re so mindful of people around them that they even avoid phone calls on trains so as not to disturb the peace. Besides, the train isn’t the right place to make noise. Be mindful of how and when you speak on trains; unnecessary talking is definitely one of the things that upset Koreans.

3. Refusing to receive a shot or beer

things that upset koreans

Image credit: Samia Liamani

YouTuber Rachel Kim very clearly explains the misconception people usually have about the drinking etiquette in South Korea, and the proper way to reject or accept a shot of soju. Contrary to popular belief that it’s rude to decline a drink from a Korean friend, it’s actually understandable to tell your friend that you don’t want another drink. There’s no reason to force yourself to take another shot out of fear of coming off as a rude tourist if you can’t hold your liquor or are prohibited to drink due to medical reasons.

But how do you say “no” to a soju shot or a beer? The first step is to just take it. You don’t have to drink it. Just take it from the hands of your Korean friend who’s offering it. On the part of Koreans, it’s customary for them to make sure that everyone’s glass is filled regardless if the drink is going to be consumed. “If you refuse (to take the drink), they won’t necessarily get offended, but it’ll raise question marks,” Kim said. This might lead to your Korean friend being concerned about whether you really want to spend time with them or not.

After receiving your drink, you can put it down and opt for a non-alcoholic beverage; this is completely acceptable. On the other hand, if you’ve been drinking but can’t handle another refill, leave a little amount of liquor halfway through the glass as a sign that you don’t need it to be refilled. Simple, right?

4. Calling Koreans by their first names

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Rachel Kim also reminds tourists that calling Koreans by their first names is discouraged if you don’t have a close relationship with them. “If the person is older than you, you’re supposed to add words like ‘unnie, oppa, noona, hyung’ after their first name according to their gender and age.” You never want to come across as feeling too familiar with locals in Korea, and that would definitely be a sure trigger to make Koreans upset or angry with you. 

Also read: 13 Fun Facts About South Korea You Should Know About Before You Visit!

5. Social touching might be too much

things that upset koreans

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One of the things that are sure to upset Koreans is if you make physical contact with them too soon. Their dating scene, for example, is still quite conservative compared to other cultures. According to Kelsey the Korean, Korean boys will first tell girls verbally that they like them before even hinting at their intentions with any social touching. That means no hugs, no elbow-brushing, not even a tap on the back after first dates. “We want to get the emotional connection and consent first, and then we can try (for social touching),” Kelsey said. 

Korean YouTuber Jina Kim also described how off-putting touching is in South Korea. “We Koreans really feel uncomfortable when someone touches our skin or body, even between friends.” So when it comes to taking photos with Korean friends, it’s best to just do the Korean finger hearts or the peace sign rather than putting your arm around their shoulders or waists!

6. Forgetting to take your shoes off

Image credit: Dayne Topkin

I don’t think I have to elaborate much on this; taking your shoes off when you’re in somebody else’s house is becoming a practice even outside Asian culture now, as confirmed in Kelsey the Korean’s vlog. In Korea, forgetting to take your shoes off before entering a house is a sign of disrespect, especially because the floor is where Koreans sit, eat, sleep, and spend their leisure time. This practice is a golden rule in many Asian countries. Practice it religiously, even in some restaurants!

7. Shaking the hands of older people before they reach out to you

things that upset koreans

Image credit: Beth Macdonald

If you’re planning to travel to South Korea, remember that there are lots of rules to note when interacting with older people. Aside from calling them with their proper honorifics, you should observe the right gestures. When shaking hands with a Korean who is older than you, you have to wait for them to reach out to you before anything else. You can’t initiate a handshake with an older Korean. 

YouTuber Jina Kim also gave her viewers a tip: “When you shake hands with old people, you should use your two hands.” What for? Well, you already know — it’s all about respecting your elders in South Korea. If you forget your manners in front of the elderly, you’ll surely have done one of the biggest things that make Koreans upset. 

Also read: Say ‘Thank You’ in Korean The Right Way: Here’s An Easy Guide!

Taking note of all the signs of respect in South Korea is essential for first-time travellers. Aside from not wanting to do the things that upset Koreans, learning new social practices helps us grow as travellers. Not to mention, it’s instrumental in blending us in with the locals. And there’s no better way to say “I respect your culture” than to do as the locals do!


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About Author

Therese Sta. Maria
Therese Sta. Maria

Therese's close friends know that if they haven’t seen her around recently, then she’s probably having an adventure with her luggage and camera in hand. Though she loves staying at home and spending lazy afternoons with friends, there are times when she has to be "away from home to feel at home," — that’s when she’s bitten by the travel bug. See her travels on Instagram @reesstamaria.

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