You may be confused when Koreans respond rather lukewarm, cold, or even say “아니에요. (No) [anieyo]” to your compliments. Koreans may reply with “아, 아니에요. [a anieyo] (Oh, no, no…)” or “그런 말씀 마세요. [geureon malsseum maseyo] (Please don’t say that…)” Korean people tend to deny what is complimented to avoid appearing arrogant and to show their modesty.
According to research from University of Pennsylvania, the most common response in Korean is to reject it, accounting for 45% of the total responses.
한국말 정말 잘하시네요! [hangungmal jeongmal jalhashineyo]
아, 아니에요. 아직 잘 못해요. [a, anieyo. ajik jal moteyo]
The next most frequent response is to request assurance in order to deflect or evade the compliment, accounting for 35% of the total responses.
The least frequent response is to accept, accounting for 20% of the total responses.
공부 정말 열심히 하시네요! [gongbu jeongmal yeolshimi hashineyo]
제가 공부를 잘 못해서요. [jega gonbureul jal moteseoyo]
오늘 정말 멋지다! [oneul jeongmal meotjida]
진짜? 고마워! [jinjja? gomawo]
Rejecting praise is an indication of humility in Korea. Don’t be confused when your compliment is rejected by a Korean. Expect your Korean friends to deny any compliments you do give.
- Connor M. The Koreas. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO; 2009.
- Kohls L. Learning to Think Korean: A Guide to Living and Working in Korea. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press; 2001.
- Chung-hye Han. A comparative study of compliment responses: Korean females in Korean interactions and in English interactions. University of Pennsylvania. Available at: http://www.gse.upenn.edu/wpel/sites/gse.upenn.edu.wpel/files/archives/v8/v8n2_han.pdf. Accessed August 30, 2015.
- 전해자. 내 맘 같지 않은 영어로 들여다본 소통의 맨얼굴. 초록비책공방; 2014.