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Comparing Politeness Norm of Egypt & South Korea

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Comparing Politeness Norm

This paper will focus on two countries, Egypt and South Korea and how they compare to politeness norms in the United States; and the possible misunderstandings that could arise from the differences between the cultures. There are similar, yet discernable differences between the American and Egyptian culture of communication and politeness norms. Generally, people in Egypt are more expressive and passionate when interacting.Personal Communication

According to Bass, Goodman, and Nagata, (2018) Egyptians, when communicating with acquaintances, close friends, relatives, tend to banter, are evocative, verbose and like to use wordplay and jokes. They are generally more open and emotive, displaying happiness, gratitude, and grief unreservedly. Americans, while capable of being expressive, generally speak to acquaintances in a more refrained tone, displaying open, expressive gestures of communication with close friends and relatives. Regarding feelings of grief and sorrow, Egyptian people express their moods freely, with wailing, crying, pounding of the chest, not only with the death of a loved one but also an acquaintance or stranger. In western culture, the emotional outpouring displays of grief can, and has, created a perception and unfair stereotypes of emotional instability and lack of self-control.

In comparison, unless a traumatic event occurs under sudden extreme circumstance, Americans tend to be less demonstrative with displaying grief, yet will do so at specified locations, events, such as funerals and memorial services, but generally not out in public display, According to Cultural Atlas, Egyptian Culture, (2018) when Egyptian men, greet each other, it is not uncommon for them to kiss each other on both sides of the cheeks, followed with a back slap, then a light handshake with constant direct eye contact. In a greeting between men and women, a handshake may be acceptable in certain circumstances, but the woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should bow his head as a sign of acknowledgment.

Although America is a mix of different cultures and customs with various ways of extending greetings, shaking hands is usually done with a firm but not overly tight grip. To softly place a hand in the hand of another person may be construed as insincere. A woman accepting and initiating a handshake is acceptable and expected. Kissing the cheek of an American may catch them off guard, particularly between male genders and may create awkwardness and cross a boundary. It is also considered invasive and threatening to look at a person continuously in the eye when having a conversation.

Punctuality In Egypt punctuality is not a priority, it’s more about relationships than time. It is not uncommon for them to arrive 30-45 minutes late to their employment, a funeral, wedding, an invitation to dinner. In contrast, according to International Students > Home > ISI Students > Survival in the US > Tips > (2018) In American culture, arriving at an invitation 10-15 minutes late may be considered bad-mannered without prior notice, and in the workplace being late on a repeated basis may justify termination. South Korean Politeness Norms-Greetings.

According to ediplomat (2018)- Koreans initiate greetings with a bow and a handshake with the left hand supporting the right, this denotes respect. For Americans, although understood to be pervasive in Eastern Culture, bowing, is still hard to get used to. However, failure to bow is considered a form of disrespect, everyone, a Korean or foreigner, must bow when they first meet or greet someone. Korean women usually do not shake hands with men and only nod slightly. When it comes to touching, Koreans consider it a violation; touching is only for family or a very close friend. Although not as demonstrative with physical touch as Egyptians, Americans do touch each other and make initial eye contact, to touch, specifically to pat on the back or shoulders, direct eye contact longer than a few seconds in Korean culture is considered impolite and a personal challenge.

Koreans sit in a formal posture, with both feet placed on the floor. When beckoning a person, they extend an arm, palm down, moving their fingers in a scratching motion, and never point with an index finger. For Americans, it is not uncommon to have a relaxed pose; both genders frequently sit with their legs crossed, pointing with an index finger for someone’s attention is readily accepted, this would be considered ill-mannered and provocative in Korean culture.

According to Chappell (2013), this difference became apparent when Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, created controversy as he introduced himself to South Korean President Park Geun-hye, at her official residence. As they shared a handshake, he kept his left hand in his pants pocket. The Korea Herald photographed the handshake and printed “Among Koreans, it is considered disrespectful to put one’s hand in your pocket while shaking another person’s hand,”

In contrast with formal greetings by Koreans, it is not unusual for them to ask deeply personal questions, with strangers, e.g., “Are you and your wife planning to have children?” This is not meant to be invasive but more an attempt to display interest in one’s life. This can create confusion among Westerners because of the conflicting message perceived, formal greeting with strict mannerisms, then followed with a personal question. According to Williams-Sinn, n.d. (2018) Americans are straightforward and don’t leave much to inferences. In Korean conversation meanings are hidden, suggested, rather than directly stated. Koreans tend to avoid the use of the words “yes” and “no.” Instead, they use “maybe” as an implied way of expressing no. This contrast can also cause misunderstanding between Americans and Koreans because, for Americans, “maybe” means “Perchance” or “Possibly” but for Koreans maybe means no.

Meals Differences also exist in eating meals as well. In Korea, finishing your plate may mean you have not had enough to eat, and they may think they have not fed you enough. In America, a slice of steak or Broccoli left on a plate may be interpreted that something was wrong with how it was cooked. In closing, each culture has a lot to learn about each other, knowing politeness norms and cultural differences is one thing, being open-minded and respectful of them is another.


  1. Bass, S., Goodman, A., & Nagata, D. (2012, October 23). Nonverbal Communication in Egyptian Culture. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from
  2. Cultural Atlas-Egyptian Culture. (2018). Retrieved September 16, 2018, from
  3. International Students > Home > ISI Students > Survival in the US > Tips > Tips on being polite in the U.S. (n.d.-b). Retrieved September 24, 2018, from
  4. Chappell, B. (2013, April 23). NPR Choice page. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from
  5. Williams-Sinn, A. (n.d.). South Korean VS American Culture. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from

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