Cultural understanding has always been a major sticking point when conducting business internationally. Unlike working in Europe, where a lot of the nuances of culture can be relatively close, the differences often outweigh the similarities. Understanding the differences can mean whether or not your company will succeed in the country!
While chopsticks are used throughout the region, each country has its own cultural sensitivity as to their use and the meanings of certain activities. While in the United States certain habits have become normalized, performing our own rituals can result in insulting our hosts or even reflecting poorly upon yourself and your company.
First, you are not a member of the Beatles! And if you were, you wouldn't want to be Ringo! You shouldn't use South Korean chopsticks as drumsticks! It is insulting to your hosts, juvenile in action, and is actually an activity conducted by beggars as a way to beg for food. This puts you in the position of making people think that you are demanding as well as a member of the lower classes. None of ths is a good thing for conducting business.
Second, it is a utensil, not a pointer. The same way that pointing at someone with a fork, spoon or knife might seem odd, using it to point at people is impolite. Similarly, the index finger should be slightly bent to prevent it from feeling as if you are pointing. This is made worse because Americans are so used to pointing if their index finger is stretched out. All the more reason to bend it to prevent an accidental pointing. Why would you want to accuse people you are eating with?
Third, though it should be logical for anyone, don't touch food that you are not going to take. After all, you eat from the chopsticks and so if you touch something that someone else might eat it would be a bad thing to do. Of course, it's also an insult to lick, suck or otherwise touch the actual sticks with your mouth. You should grab the item brought to your mouth with your teeth and not really touch the sticks themselves. This can't always be done, but less touching is considered more of a sign of class.
Fourth, if you put your chopsticks down, you should never place them to the left of your spoon. Unlike in China or Japan, people do not generally lift their bowls and use of spoons is fine. But placing your chopsticks to the left of your spoon is only done during food preparation for funerals or memorial services. While not as large of an issue in South Korea, you also shouldn't cross them or leaving them standing in food either.
Understanding the needs of our hosts and working to better show consideration for our differences can make all of the difference when conducting business abroad. We hope that this page will help you in this effort and we look forward to seeing you at an event.
THEY improv is proud to serve all of South Korea including Seoul, Incheon, Osong, Ulsan as well anywhere else you can think of, though some of the more remote areas would likely result in added costs.
THEY can help companies of every sort, from administrative to the government agencies to tourism related businesses such as hotels and resorts. THEY do so by consulting from our base and providing skilled facilitators in South Korea to meet your particular needs.
Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 866.219.4386 if in the US or +1 786.543.9472 if not.