South Korea Gift Giving Customs

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Flag of South Korea

  1. Officially the Republic of Korea .
  1. Official Language: Korean
  2. Currency: Won (KRW)
  3. National Holiday: Liberation Day, 15 August (1945)

General Gift Giving Guidelines

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Expect initial resistance from someone accepting your gift. This reluctance is considered good manners, so be persistent.

Business Gift Etiquette

  • Giving gifts to acquire favors or build relationships is a common practice in the workplace, and reciprocity is expected.
  • Gifts express a great deal about a relationship and are always reciprocated.
  • Often, gift-giving is practiced in a business setting. Good gifts for a first trip include office items with your company logo or something that is commemorative of your region. Your gift should be of good quality but modestly priced.
  • Where a gift is made is important. Gifts from your own country or region are appreciated. However, avoid items made in developing countries, unless they are cultural icons or souvenirs.
  • If gifts are given to several people within an organization, be sure to give a gift of greater value to the senior person. The gifts you give to the subordinates may be similar, as long as they are of lesser value than the one you give to their superior.
  • Gifts to Civil Servants should not exceed $US100, as they would have to be reported according to ethics law.
  • If you are offered a gift that is far too extravagant and a potential bribe, send it back, citing your firm's policy not to accept a gift with a certain dollar amount. You should be very polite in returning it and express your gratitude and regret for not being able to accept such generosity.

Personal Gift Giving Etiquette

  • When visiting families, good gifts include crafts from your home region, fruit, cake, chocolates, flowers, imported coffee, etc. Liquor and cigarettes may be given to those who like to drink and smoke.
  • Whenever a person receives a gift, it is customary for the recipient to give another gift of similar value in return at a later time. Therefore, when you give a gift, ensure that it is compatible with the recipient's economic means because if he or she cannot reciprocate, 'loosing face' will result.

Gift Presentation

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  • The number 4 is considered unlucky, so gifts should not be given in multiples of 4.
  • Giving 7 of an item is considered lucky.
  • Wrap gifts in red or yellow paper, since these are royal colors. Alternatively, use yellow or pink paper since they denote happiness.
  • Blue is considered a lucky color in South Korea, so a blue colored gift or the wrapping may be blue. There is even a "Seoul Blue" color.
  • Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver, unless you are a very good friend. If so, you can ask him/her, "Do you want me to open it?"
  • Do not wrap gifts in green, white, or black paper.
  • Do not sign a card, write letters or notes in red ink as this symbolizes the termination of a relationship[1].

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