K-Drama Culture Note #1

You know you watch too much Asian dramas when you gesture to someone with an open, hand-up palm… and instantly feel like you’ve deeply disrespected them.

Come Here Sign Honeymoon

A few years ago, I learned first-hand that some gestures aren’t universal. I was in the doctors office and kept giving my nurse a thumbs up to show I understood… until I learned that was the equivalent of the birdie in his native country.

Similarly, the way you gesture to people in East Asian cultures is important. From varying sources for varying reasons, its traditionally disrespectful to motion someone over with the palm up–and even more so if you only gesture with a finger (which happens all the time in western culture). For some cultures its a way to call dogs and other animals over, in others it symbolizes death.


Don’t do this.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen or that doing so will get you arrested (although according to one site it might in the Philippines), just that traditionally it’s rather rude. And I have noticed in my K-Drama journey that they don’t beckon to each other with a palm up–it’s more often to the side, or facing down (interesting because that usually signals “go away” in western culture). And they rarely (never?) point something out with a single finger–it’s always the whole hand.

Inilah bahasa isyarat yang dipakai orang Jepang dalam kehidupan sehari ...

I still point at things, but I admit it feels a bit uncomfortable these days. And beckoning to someone? I haven’t used my palm up in years now. What about you guys–have your gestures changed because of K-Dramas?


3 responses to “K-Drama Culture Note #1

  1. Now I’m going to be super conscious of the way I gesture! That’s probably a good thing though. ;)

  2. As a side note to this, I do feel like we all also need to be more open to the fact that not everyone knows all the nuances to every culture and so we should not take offense to just a hand sign. Everything should be taken in context- body language as a whole will tell you if a person is being rude/disrespectful more than just the hand gesture.
    Not that we shouldn’t try to learn the “right way” but just not to make such a big deal of it if a foreigner gets it wrong. (Like going to jail! Or being mortally insulted)

    But thanks for sharing. I automatically call people palm down but never realized that palm up was even an issue in Korea. (I better educate myself before I travel there in Oct!)

    • So true. I try and follow the “just be chill” rule to life and not take offense. And to be completely fair I haven’t been to Korean myself, so I don’t know if the current generation is really stickler about this or if the culture has shifted. But it’s still good to know! ^^ Have fun in Korea, take lots of pictures (please)!

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