May 13, 2023

What is Nunchi? How does it work?

Nunchi: Understanding Korean Culture through Perception and Sensitivity

Nunchi, a unique cultural aspect in Korea, provides insights into the country's social dynamics while also exerting pressure on individuals. Translated as "Read the room" or "Feel the air," nunchi permeates various aspects of daily Korean life, influencing interactions at markets, appointments, meals with friends, and even business engagements. Grasping this cultural phenomenon is integral to comprehending Korean society and the way Koreans engage with one another.

The practice of nunchi often begins within smaller communities like schools and universities. Students, hesitant to ask questions in public, perceive it as a waste of time and associate questioning with foolishness. Consequently, Korean students are often reluctant to participate in public inquiries during classes or lectures.

When dining out with seniors, it is customary for seniors to pay. However, it is essential to choose a menu item that is not more expensive than what the senior orders. Even if you cover the extra cost for your own meal, it is considered impolite to select an expensive dish without consulting your senior. Additionally, it is important to eat slowly and avoid finishing your meal before your seniors, as doing so is generally seen as rude.

In business meetings, when a senior makes suggestions or gives orders, it is customary to listen attentively and absorb their words, even if you disagree or do not fully understand the situation. Respecting the authority and experience of those older or more experienced than you demonstrates deference and helps build favorable relationships in the business context.

When exchanging gifts to celebrate events, it is customary for the value of gifts to be comparable. Offering a gift of higher value than that of your friend or colleague may create an unintended impression of wealth disparity. Therefore, maintaining parity in gift value, taking into account age and career level, is recommended.

Today's discussion only scratches the surface of nunchi in Korea, and I will continue sharing more insights gradually. Thank you for reading and exploring this unique aspect of Korean culture.