Welcome to Linguistics and Korea

Ever wondered why Koreans speak "bad English"?
Why it's so hard to learn Korean?
Why it's so hard to have "normal" conversations with Koreans?
Why it's so hard to fit in with Korean culture and society?
We don't claim to have the perfect answer to these questions, just a few hints that we hope will clarify the situation.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions, we'd be happy to hear from you. Email us at raphael.hadid [at] gmail [dot] com

Conversation with Koreans - getting started

A lot of foreigners complain that conversation with Koreans is not always easy. Technically it's not easy with any society other than the one we belong to. You might have problems conversing with people with different religions, ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds etc.

Before I even get started I think it's important to point out that no two Korean people are similar, talk the same way, or observe the same rules when they talk. But some rules are more observed than others.

These are the main rules observe when Koreans meet someone:

-Koreans never talk to someone with no clear relationship. Before Koreans even start conversing with someone, they should know that the person they are talking to is related to them in some way: same family, same company, same school etc., otherwise, a third person has to introduce them.

*This rule is not clearly defined when it comes to relations with customers. Some restaurants, coffee shops, taxi drivers etc. will engage in conversations with strangers, while others refuse to do so.

-Koreans always start introducing themselves by saying their full name regardless of age, class or social position. They then use formal "phatic" expressions like "nice to meet you", "I think this is the first time we met" etc. They usually use two or three of these expressions.
*Koreans find it very unusual when someone does not start the first conversation by saying his name first. They find it even more unusual when people (for example French people) refuse to answer the question "what is your name".

-After formal greetings, Koreans will start a conversation to get information which will help them establish their "social relationship". They will ask each other how many siblings they have, whether they are the eldest son, their age, their marital status, their job, and sometimes when it's older people asking younger people, their salary and intentions to get married. These questions will help determine who is in a higher social position than the other. Age is a determining factor, but sometimes marital status, economic status etc. can narrow the social gap between two people of similar age.
*Koreans do not immediately call each other by titles like hyeong or nuna, or switch from "polite"(jondaemal) to "plain" (panmal) forms of speech. If their age and social status is similar they may do so, but if they have considerable different social backgrounds or age gaps that may take longer.

-Once the relationship is established, conversation can start. The first few times Koreans will always discuss "light" topics, that is, no gas prices, politics or the economy or any other topic that invites debate or specialized knowledge. Topics depend completely on age, gender, and personal preferences.

This is not set in stone, but usually, when someone is older and male, he will completely monopolize the conversation and there will be little to say for the younger person. Younger people can ask their male seniors questions, but never comment on what they say. Females and people the same age tend to have two-way conversations.

-Once Koreans are absolutely convinced that they can trust the other person, they will discuss more intimate topics.
*Intimate topics include personal problems (things related to family) as well as political, social, economic opinions. Koreans only have debates with people they know they can trust. They tend to pretend to agree with everything the person says when they don't trust each other yet. It may take very little time to gain some people's trust, and a lot of time to gain others.