If you’ve been studying Korean for a while, or even just reading up on Korean culture you’ll have noticed that there is a huge love for being “humble” amongst Koreans.
That, while it may be such a beautiful concept of the culture, can get hella complicated when it comes down to compliments and accepting them without starting a fight.
And trust me, it’s never pretty when a fight breaks out. Even when it’s simply out of politeness, it’s so frustrating.
I’ve had a few experiences thus far where I’ve had to choose how to respond to someone based on their politeness level, age, and even occasionally…gender.
Yes, I know, that sounds bad but hear me out.
Any men I’ve happened to meet who praise my Korean are not usually on my radar, because being Muslim, I try to avoid contact with men that I’m not closely related to.
But sometimes it’s just inevitable and I gotta speak or come off as rude because I don’t.
So, when accepting compliments from Koreans, whether it’s about your Korean skills, your face, your body, etc. There are a few guidelines I want you to be aware of to stay safe.
First and foremost:
The more humble, the better.
By this I mean like…just flat out denying yourself of talent, skills, beauty or whatever is usually seen more humble than anything else.
But sometimes it can be a little self-demeaning so try not to step too hard on the peddle.
A great example would be a common phrase used to kind of curve the “우와! 한국말 잘하시네요!?” Reaction after saying a simple “안녕하세요” which is:
“아니에요, 아직 멀었어요!” (No, I’ve still got a ways to go.)
I used to say “아니에요! 배울 게가 아직 너무 많아요.” Which literally means, “No! I still have so much to learn.” But found out later on that no one says that and it actually made my Korean sound less fluent.
Ya live and ya learn.
But yeah, basically saying you have a long ways to go, even if you’ve passed TOPIK level 6 and hold a translation degree in the Korean medical field; saying you still have more to learn is the safest and in most cases, most polite way to respond to a compliment.
For beauty and things like that, just saying “아니에요” works just as well!
Secondly, whatever route you choose, be sure to sound sincere and ultimately, BE sincere.
This way is a little more appreciative and can come off a little rude or conceited if you aren’t careful, so beware.
Basically, you just thank them for the compliment.
So, it could go something like this:
A: “우와! 한국말 너무 잘하시네요!?” (Wow! You speak Korean so well!)
B: “아, 감사합니다.” (Ah, Thank you.)
Although this seems natural and pretty nice, it can hold a little bit of a “Yeah, I’m aware but thanks for noticing.” Type of feeling so it’s not for everyone.
I would advise you to use this with people who are around your age or obviously younger than you, because the younger generation of Koreans tend to be more chill about it.
Plus, if you’ve seen some idols on radios and shows, sometimes they choose this route too.
The trick is to make sure your voice shows just how shocked and thankful you are for their compliment and even do a little head bow to really put the cherry on top.
But honestly, I only use this when I’m sick of hearing the same thing over and over again and want to avoid a polite fight.
I remember “fighting” with someone over my Korean skills for a whole day.
That was very shocking and very stressful.
So yeah, you be the judge and decide whether you should use option one or two for accepting (or denying but still accepting) compliments from Koreans.
This last way is a bonus way and is NOT in ANY WAY polite:
It’s more of an “F off” kind of way so the only reason I’m giving it to you is for those days when you get someone you’d rather avoid or curve complimenting you.
I actually heard this in a video by Kennie J.D., aka one of my absolute favorite YouTubers. I love her so much.
If you know her then you know her storytimes are wild, and naturally, that’s where I’ve learned some sassy phrases to use when needed.
The phrase is: “네, 알고 있어요.” (Yes, I am aware.)
And oh boy if that isn’t a polite way to tell someone to buzz off I don’t know what is.
Especially in Korean, speaking with a Korean who is submerged in Korean culture, they will nine times out of ten leave you alone.
Unless you’re Kendall. In that case…good luck.
But yeah, these were some tips to accept compliments from Koreans in Korean based on what kind of person you’re dealing with and what kind of mood you’re in.
Just keep in mind: when in doubt, sit down and be humble, because that will always get you the most respect and even boost your Korean skills in their eyes.
But if you wanna be a sass-master, and tell someone to get lost, the last one is definitely for you.
I’ve given you the weapons, it’s up to you how you use them.
I trust you.
And if you have any more ways to accept or deny compliments, lemme know! I always say the same things over and over again so it can get repetitive and I would really like to know if you have a special way that you say these things.
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Until next time, my fellow Lingo-geek.
Q.P.S. If you have any questions or want me to expand on this topic more, please let me know by commenting below, tweeting me, or DMing me on Instagram. This whole topic can get more complicated, so I would love to expand on it more!