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Why do Koreans ask each other’s age upon first meeting?

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We have learn that Meeting A Korean For The First Time and Greetings in Korea. You may be taken aback if you are a Westerner and you see Koreans abruptly ask each other’s age upon first meeting. If you are not accustomed to this practice, your inclination may be to firmly reply, “That’s none of your business!” But in Korean, the reason for asking is to decide what level of speech to use with one another. The way one person speaks to another depends on whether the other person is older or younger.

Why do Koreans ask each other’s age upon first meeting?

Why do Koreans ask each other's age upon first meeting?

Why do Koreans ask each other's age upon first meeting?

In a close relationship – with a family member or neighbour, or between classmates, for instance, if the person to whom you are speaking is older than you, you need to use the honorific form (으) 세요. Even if that person is not older, if it’s your first meeting, you should use the honorific to show respect. But if you are similar in age or status and you wish to indicate some closeness, you can use the polite form 아요/어요. This form is most often used when buying things in a market or when asking something of someone in the street.

You can use casual speech (from 아요/어요, the 요 is left off) if two people are very close, for instance with close childhood friends, when speaking to a young child, or to a younger sibling. For example, 고맙습니다(formal) to 고마워요 (informal). Casual speech assumes closeness, so you can only use it if you have a close relationship or by consent of the other person, especially if you are speaking with an adult, even if he or she is younger than you. These days, due to Western influence, young people may not ask each other’s age. But for the most part in Korea, having a conversation with someone requires the age question.

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