Author Topic: Korean-American etiquette I should know?  (Read 2114 times)

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MommyPenguin

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Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« on: August 18, 2013, 08:22:21 PM »
Our family has been looking for a church for a while, and we've finally found one we really like.  We're going to give it a try for a few weeks and see how it goes, but we've gone twice so far and really like it.  The catch is, it's a Korean church.  They have the downstairs as the Korean-language church and the upstairs as the English-language church, but the people are almost all ethnically Korean, with maybe two couples who are non-Korean and a couple more that are half-Korean.  We definitely stand out.  :)

So what I'm wondering is, is there Korean etiquette (that would be still practiced in America) that I should know about?  If we get involved in this church, there will be various events and activities, Bible studies, picnics, general socializing, etc.  And we'd rather not make any major faux pas.  Are there, say, topics of conversation or words that are verboten?

When we visited the first week, we didn't realize the church split and we came in on the bottom floor and into the Korean-language church.  A couple of times somebody would give a little bow.  Bow back?  Nod?  Smile but do nothing?  What's the appropriate response?  I figure that another Korean would probably bow back at the same depth, but I'm not sure if they expect us to do the same or not.

Anything else we should know?  This pertains to kids, too, as our kids will be with other kids in Sunday school, playgroups, etc.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2013, 09:05:10 PM »
I think the best thing to do is to go to the pastor or assistant pastor and ask them what's proper.  You'll also probably pick things up the more you attend the church

White Lotus

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2013, 09:55:39 PM »
I have always found Koreans, underneath a certain surface brusqueness, to be warm, kind, welcoming and friendly people.  You will not be expected to know the details of, say, bowing or serving tea.  Do what comes naturally to you -- often a small bow or nod and smile.  Be polite in American and you will be fine.  Do not be afraid to ask!  "Please show me how to do this properly" or even, "tell me what would be the polite thing to do (here, in Korean culture, etc.)" work well for me in cultures foreign to me.  It is also fine to say, "in this situation, an American would normally do this. What would a polite (whatever) do?"  People appreciate it when you try, and like it when you want to learn.  Remember, they want to learn American ways, too!  This will help you make friends, to the benefit of all concerned.  There will be lots of fun as the kids teach yours impolite things in Korean, and everybody will laugh, he'll learn some Korean, and all will be well. 

Zizi-K

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2013, 10:04:29 PM »
I have always found Koreans, underneath a certain surface brusqueness, to be warm, kind, welcoming and friendly people.  You will not be expected to know the details of, say, bowing or serving tea.  Do what comes naturally to you -- often a small bow or nod and smile.  Be polite in American and you will be fine.  Do not be afraid to ask!  "Please show me how to do this properly" or even, "tell me what would be the polite thing to do (here, in Korean culture, etc.)" work well for me in cultures foreign to me.  It is also fine to say, "in this situation, an American would normally do this. What would a polite (whatever) do?"  People appreciate it when you try, and like it when you want to learn.  Remember, they want to learn American ways, too!  This will help you make friends, to the benefit of all concerned.  There will be lots of fun as the kids teach yours impolite things in Korean, and everybody will laugh, he'll learn some Korean, and all will be well.

I would probably assume that while some of the congregation may be made up of recent immigrants, many others will be first or second generation or more, and therefore also as 'American' as anyone else. You could definitely get into trouble referring to an 'American' family but meaning a white family. Just be careful with that.

White Lotus

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2013, 10:31:29 PM »
Oh, ZiziK, being a native born American of Elsewherian ancestry -- you are SO right.  I would suggest for "white" read "black or white."  And maybe add "Hispanic."  I suppose it happens to others, but it so often seems to fall on Asians! 

MommyPenguin

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2013, 10:44:35 PM »
Yes, most of the people I've talked to sound like at least second generation Americans.  Perfect English, etc.  There are a *few* people who speak with an accent and presumably are first generation, but I think that with the two churches in one building, in general people who are first generation tend to go to the Korean service, and the people at the English service are Korean by ethnicity but were born here, or have been here a long time. 

Many people I met have very non-Korean names like Connie and Jenny.  I will have to work at remembering names and faces, as it's not generally a strength of mine, and the unfamiliar names (of some people) and the many people with similar hair, eye, and skin color (as opposed to the many variant colors found in the population as a whole) make it harder to remember who is who!

Zizi-K

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2013, 10:51:51 PM »
Oh, ZiziK, being a native born American of Elsewherian ancestry -- you are SO right.  I would suggest for "white" read "black or white."  And maybe add "Hispanic."  I suppose it happens to others, but it so often seems to fall on Asians!

I agree. I think your approach would work well with some modifications - perhaps a reference to their old church, or 'what we're used to', how does this congregation do things differently? etc.

sparksals

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2013, 02:36:13 AM »
I lived in Korea for 4 years. I am on my phone now and will list to you tomorrow from my computer. 

Lynn2000

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2013, 11:03:40 AM »
I think I would talk to the pastor/someone else in the administration, and/or the non-Korean couples, just trying to sound out how people feel about non-Koreans joining the church. I mean, I hope a church would be welcoming to all; but sometimes people really like having a place to go where things feel comfortable and familiar, you know? I guess I personally would just worry about feeling inadvertently excluded, or that I would make others uncomfortable because they felt they all had to speak English around me or explain things "everyone" knows or whatever. They may be totally cool with you being there, or they may be a little reserved about it, and since you're still looking for a church and seem to have many options, maybe talking to a few people about this would help you decide whether you felt comfortable staying and adjusting to the atmosphere there, or not.

I think if you chose to attend regularly, you would have to be prepared to do a lot of adjusting yourselves, just because it sounds like 98% of the members are roughly the same cultural heritage, but different from you. And again, that might be fine with you, but it's just something to think about. I'm certainly not assuming anyone would be rude, but there could be differences in the food served, the activities for your kids, who is expected to "volunteer" for what jobs, etc.--of course any church community would have expectations, but here they might also be linked to the specific culture, and if you didn't know them or didn't want to go along with them, it would just make you stand out all the more.

Sorry, I am not trying to discourage you, I'm just throwing out some things you might think about and ask people about before you make a decision. :)
~Lynn2000

blahblahblah

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2013, 11:53:52 AM »
Speaking as a Korean-American who was born and raised in the States but whose parents were immigrants, sweeping generalizations ahead!:

1. Koreans tend to be very deferential to their elders. It's often considered impolite to argue/disagree with someone of an older generation, no matter how wrong you think they are.

2. Related to #1, we have a very age-based hierarchy in general. Like at mealtimes, you're not supposed to eat until the oldest person at the table has taken their first bite. And we tend to be aware of the other person's status in relation to our own, and that might affect how we interact with that person.

3. From what I've experienced, Koreans can be simultaneously insular and friendly to outsiders. If that makes sense. They will welcome you, but at the same time might treat you as though you're an alien because their group as a whole is so homogeneous. This might be less of an issue among Korean-Americans who hang out with other non-Koreans outside of church, but I'm not sure. You might still feel out of place. I went to a Korean United Methodist church as a kid, and I remember that we had a couple of brothers who were half-black/half-Korean (but whose black features were more dominant, so they definitely stood out; I don't think I even knew that they were Korean for the longest time). As far as I saw, all the other kids treated the boys normally, and in retrospect I don't think I ever once thought that their presence was odd, even before I knew that they were part Korean. But I was never very close to them in general, so it's very possible that they experienced some form of bigotry that I wasn't aware of.

And of course, this is speaking from the perspective of the youth group/children's ministry. We kids tended to have more non-Korean friends compared to our parents, many of whom were immigrants and more insular.

that_one_girl

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2013, 05:21:00 PM »
My parents go to a similar church.  When I am there, I make a little bow (less than 45 degrees) when passing  the Korean members.  I also noticed that they tend to use two hands when giving something to someone else.

Seiryuu

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Re: Korean-American etiquette I should know?
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2013, 10:20:04 AM »
My parents go to a similar church.  When I am there, I make a little bow (less than 45 degrees) when passing  the Korean members.  I also noticed that they tend to use two hands when giving something to someone else.
Using two hands is common in a lot of southeastern Asian countries as a sign of respect. With one hand you can dismissively give someone something (or receive), which of course is rude. Trying to do that with two hands becomes more awkward and usually forces the giver and receiver to be direct with each other.

tl;dr: When someone hands something to you, take it with both hands.