September 2, 2008
The way you handle your, err, hands, coveys a lot of meaning in Korean Culture. The way you place your hands upon giving and receiving things can be viewed as either proper if you know what you’re doing or disrespectful if you don’t. For example, say you’re in a convenience store here in Bucheon; when you give the cashier your money, you need to hold your cash or card one way, while the cashier takes it in another way. Your change is given back in similar fashion, and once the dance is done you can walk away with your purchase knowing that you have been respectful of the customs. As a general rule of thumb, just remember to use both hands. When you give something with one hand, make sure your other hand is touching your elbow, as if the weight of what you are giving is so heavy that you need both hands to support it. Do the same when you are receiving something, or accept it with two hands altogether.
When it comes to waving people and taxis over, a lot of significance is placed in your hand motions as well. Our North American way of doing it is supposedly very rude, because it is the way that Korean people call over their dogs. In North America, we have our palms up, and wave people towards us with a one-hand-clapping gesture. That, supposedly, is how Korean people call their dogs. When they asked me about it, they were surprised that we don’t call our dogs the same way. Martina and I just slap our thighs rapidly and yell “Here Spudgy Pudgy! Come here you fat and smelly dog!” (Now if we called Korean people over THAT way I’m sure it would be extremely rude). Anyhow, if you’re going to call over a taxi or a student in Bucheon, make sure your palm is facing down, not up, and wave them towards you as if you’re swimming with one hand.
If this all sounds confusing, and you’re worried about how to move your hands so that you don’t treat Korean people like dogs, worry no more! We’ve made a Korean Cultural education video just for you!