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

Doing business with Koreans - selling things to Koreans

In recent years a lot of foreign companies have made successful business deals with Koreans and their products are selling very well. There are some social rules when it comes selling foreign products to Koreans.

Koreans only buy products from people they can trust. Korean businessmen give as much importance to the products foreigners try to sell as to the person who is selling them.

While in Western countries selling products involves convincing the customer about the quality of the product and company who is selling the product, Koreans need to feel secure with the person they are buying the product from. They tend to be highly suspicious of deals and try to make sure that they are dealing with someone who will intervene in their favor in case something goes wrong with the deal.

This means that Koreans want to spend a significant amount of time having sincere conversations with their foreign counterparts. They don't want their counterparts to convince them that they graduated from prestigious schools and worked hard to achieve high positions at their company. They want their counterparts to show them that foreign businessmen want to be good friends and want to help them.

Therefore, a large part of the negotiation involves casual conversation and activities. Golf and tennis are common activities, but Korean businessmen want to drink alcohol with their foreign counterparts. They will often take foreign businessmen to danranjujeoms, which are business bars where hostesses join the conversation and serve drinks to customers.

In forcing foreign businessmen to engage in such behavior, Korean businessmen want to make sure that their counterparts behaved comfortably but unethically. They want to get to know their counterparts on the deepest personal level, and get their foreign counterparts to say things and do things that show their real personality. Korean businessmen tend not to judge their counterparts but want to make sure that they have evidence that they can turn against their foreign counterpart in case there is something wrong with the product they sold them, or in case there is a problem with the deal.

Korean businessmen tend to consider contracts as secondary, as they tend to view the spoken agreements they had with their foreign counterparts more important. They expect their foreign counterparts to be very flexible when they negotiate deals. Just as when they sell products, Korean businessmen tend to include beautiful women and handsome Western men during the negotiation who serve as "interpreters" but whose real role is to serve as people who "soften" the negotiation and prevent foreign negotiators from being too aggressive.