Many Asian cultures value modesty and graciousness as staples of their culture, and South Korea is no different. This translates into the gift-giving culture as a wonderful way to express gratitude towards others who have shown their kindness.
If you are new to the culture, here are a few tips to help your gift-giving in South Korea go smoothly.
The first thing you should understand about the gift-giving culture is that Koreans pride themselves on modesty and humbleness. Gift-giving is a way for Koreans to show respect, keep good kibun (being in a good state of mind), and show modest graciousness. The emphasis on modesty and appreciation lends itself to the way gifts are given and accepted.
For example, gifts are given with both hands, and are never opened in front of the giver.
Presentation and Selection of your Gifts
Make an effort to wrap your gifts nicely. Presentation and packaging matter almost as much as the gift itself. Yellow or green-striped wrapping paper is a traditional wrapping design in Korea, and you may want to avoid wrapping gifts in dark or red paper. Red is associated with unpleasantness and isn’t used in gift wrapping.
If you are sending gifts to South Korea as a thank-you or follow-up to a business meeting or visit, try using an international gifting service so you can send big baskets of flowers or blossoming shrubs. You can’t send these types of preferred gifts overseas yourself, and these services ensure the package arrives undamaged and perfectly wrapped with bows and ribbons.
Even though Koreans take great pride in their own culture, regional gifts from your home country or town also make great gifts for any occasion.
If you’re already in the country and are at a loss at what to bring the hostess of next week’s dinner party, food can always be your go-to. There has been a bit of a cupcake renaissance in Seoul, and cookies, wine and fine chocolates can be a sweet way to offer your thanks.
Understand the Cultural Taboos and Traditions
In most Asian cultures, giving sharp objects is symbolic of severing the relationship, and the same idea applies in South Korea. While giving a newlywed couple a new set of expensive kitchen knives may be commonplace in other areas of the world, you may want to avoid it in Korea. In fact, you may want to stick to the Korean wedding tradition of giving cold hard cash to the bride and groom.
Many Korean holidays, like Chuseok, are celebrated by exchanging gifts. Wine, fruit and other culinary delicacies are great ideas for these holidays, but don’t discount the value of giving money for celebrations like New Year’s Day and weddings. Money is actually the preferred gift for many family celebrations.
As a house-warming gift, candles with a big box of matches and laundry detergent may seem odd in your home country, but they are the traditional gifts in Korea.
You may feel like there are rules for every situation and celebration, but gift-giving in Korea is really only centered around one aspect – showing thanks. Understanding the culture and traditions may make your experiences easier, and choosing what to give someone in any circumstance may quickly become second nature. So use the helpful tips, and enjoy your next gift-giving experience!
How is your country’s gift-giving culture different from Korea’s? Leave your comments in the box below.