Korean Courtesy and Harmony
Harmony in personal relationships is a dominant force in a Korean’s life. Facts, logic and conclusions are often not nearly as important as how one is looked upon by others. Friendships are tight-knit and valuable. It is an insult to refuse a friend’s request. It is even less forgivable to fail a superior.
These friendships are possible because everyone does his best to preserve and foster harmony and good feelings. The bearer of bad news may smile to soften the blow. He may avoid giving the news, even if he is merely the messenger and in no way responsible for it.
It is very hard for Koreans to admit failure and it is devastating to lose face in Korean culture. The directness of Westerners is thoroughly unpalatable to Koreans, whose self-esteem is always on the line. In Korea, it is of unparalleled importance to maintain kibun or the mood or feeling of being in a comfortable state of mind. Breakage of machinery, a production line error or bad news from the head office may not be as important as the reporting of the news, which will cause loss of face for the teller and damaged kibun for the hearer. Bad news is rarely related in the first hour of the business day. If a bad report is inescapable, the evening is a better time to deliver it, when there is at least a night in which to restore kibun.
There has never been any code of behavior relating to outsiders in the Confucian system. If one is not tied by some form of the five basic Confucian relationships (father-son, king-subject, husband-wife, elder-younger and friend-friend) neither loyalty nor respect is due. Foreigners and outsiders have traditionally been considered to be ‘non-persons"- indefinable and without a place in society. Nothing is expected from or due to them. However, once a foreigner become a business associate, a fellow club member, or a colleague, he or she (sometimes) will be treated in the manner appropriate to the position and be expected to treat others appropriately. Even among Koreans, if someone is not a part of the family, the club, the group, the company or the class, he/she merits no special considerations.
Do not, however, let all of this mislead you. In general, Koreans treat visitors with very special kindness and courtesy; people who travel all over the world speak highly of the unsurpassed kindnesses they experienced in Korea.
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Last Updated on 2015-03-23
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