Why Koreans Don’t Smile at Strangers

“Do I know you?”

In Western culture, people are more open to talking with strangers. If they run into someone in the elevator, they would smile, nod, or say hi. If they are at a park and see a person jogging towards them, they would smile, nod, or say hi. (Though we know that not everyone from the Western culture is like that). At bars, people easily start conversations with complete stranger.

But Koreans don’t say hi to, or even smile at, strangers passing by.

If a Korean makes eye contact with a stranger and happen to say hi or give a smile, he/she would either just ignore, be confused, or have a look of “Do I know you?” on their face. There’s a high possibility that he/she won’t just smile back at you.

But, if you go to a night club or bar in certain areas, there is a pretty high chance (especially if you are a woman) that strangers would come up and offer you a drink. ???? (Power of soju?)

If you really want to know why, we have to talk about how Koreans make human relations.

In Korea, human relations generally occur in inevitable situations/places such as schools, workplaces, and church communities. It doesn’t frequently occur in public places like cafe and bar where you have to take action and selectively choose people you want to start conversation with.

In other words, the subject of making human relations is not one’s own self, but rather group-oriented situations. You happen to be in a certain group or situation and you inevitably have relationship with those in the group. When a group as a whole shares friendship, the sense of belonging, intimacy, bond amplifies.

What it boils down to is that Koreans have a tendency to start a conversation with those who they want to be “friends.” That’s why many people feel that Koreans are somewhat exclusive and indifferent to others/strangers. A number of foreigners who are studying in Korea felt that way when they first arrived.

In Western culture, people tend to have one-on-one conversations at a party.

Koreans, on the other hands, tend to make a big circle with a group and talk!

So, it’s helpful to understand that it’s not always because of Koreans’ shyness.

Although it differs from people to people, many Koreans get reputation that they are shy just because they don’t really talk to, or even smile at, strangers. So it’s helpful to understand Koreans’ view of strangers.

However, we also know that many travelers have experienced warm welcome from Korean strangers.

To be honest, there is a high possibility that it is because you are a “guest.” We feel that foreigners get special treatments in Korean cultures, because we respect and want to welcome people from around the world. Generally, Koreans are caring people.

* Please do not get us wrong! :

Just like anywhere in the world, Koreans have different personality types and there are people who enjoy becoming friends with the strangers ????

* A tip for those who want to make Korean friends :

Go to networking groups/activities like joining a club or going to a small group of church community.

Caption Translations : Just enjoy being myself

Younger generations are more open towards relationships!

They are more familiar with digital world where people can easily make human relations without making a real, physical contact. Through apps like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube, more people express themselves in creative and unique ways and connect/interact with others.

“We all start as strangers. We all end as strangers!”

— Danish Nawab

???? Discussion for Today’s Topic :

Do you like making relationships with strangers? How does it feel to you?

Please feel free to share your thoughts with us!

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