You may have mastered the art of the polite bow, worked out how to use the tricky steel chopsticks, and learnt a few words of the Korean language, but beware, you may upset new friends by accepting gifts with your hand in the wrong place.
While even seasoned expats receive heartfelt congratulations for getting the easy bits right (some are even surprised when foreigners are able to use Korean money), there are still innumerable ways to offend the locals, and unfortunately it’s the things that are hardest to guess that are most likely to see you come a cropper.
Dressing well has long been important, but though pretty much anything goes for local girls these days, foreign women may be assumed to be brazen hussies (or Russian prostitutes) if they wear revealing clothing.
Foreigners will see Koreans bowing all the time, even during telephone conversations.
The serving of drinks is a little less formal, though again the minutiae of recommended conduct could fill a small book – basically, you should never refill your own cup or glass, and should endeavour to keep topped up those belonging to others.
Foreigners may also see Koreans as disrespectful: nobody’s going to thank you for holding open a door, and you’re unlikely to get an apology if bumped into (which is almost inevitable on the subway).
Attracting attention is also done differently here – you beckon with fingers fluttering beneath a downward-facing palm, rather than with your index fingers protruding hook-like from an upturned one.
Koreans are great lovers of business cards, which are exchanged in all meetings that have even a whiff of commerce about them.
It’s also bad form, as natural as it may seem, to leave your chopsticks in the bowl: this is said to resemble incense sticks used after a death, but to most Koreans it just looks wrong (just as many Westerners obey unwritten and seemingly meaningless rules governing cutlery positions).
Just leave the sticks balanced on the rim of the bowl.