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Korean Business Etiquette: The Cultural Values and Attitudes that Make Up the Korean Business Personality Paperback – September 15, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This book is a must–read for professionals seeking to do business in Korea, or with Koreans." —POP CLUB blog

"Should be mandatory reading for all foreign CEOs in Korea…" —Joe Day, Vice President, EU Chamber of Commerce in Korea

"This book is a 'must read' for any professional venturing into this complex but rewarding market." —Martin H. Sours, Professor, Global Studies, Thunderbird School of Global Management

The Korean Way in Business is one of this author's several well–received volumes on Korea that should be pre–requisite reading for anyone intending to do business there." —Steve Herman, Veteran foreign correspondent in Asia

"Koreans are not like their neighbors China and Japan, they are unique in language, dress, food, and in the way they understand ow business should be conducted. If you want to have a chance, it is helpful to know the Korean way." —John E. Banta, CEO, Northshim Hotel Group

"A must read on Korean business from Boye Lafayette De Mente, a writer who has known Korea for more than five decades, and it shows in this book." —Glenn D. Davis, International Studies Department, Texas A&M, former head of UPI Tokyo Bureau

"The author is no lightweight to commercial media on all things Korea and he does what does quite well. He's a respectable pioneer and has made some progress for countless foreign businesspeople." —TooPoorforGradSchool.blogspot.com

"…a riveting 192 page book that is indispensable for any westerner doing—or wishing to do—business in Korea. The book is replete with mistakes that have made by westerners and the means of correcting them, or better yet, not making them in the first place." —WowAsIs.com blog --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Boye Lafayette De Mente is the author of more than 30 books on Japan, Korea and China, including Kata. He lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (September 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804835829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804835824
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,301,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For extraordinary website featuring 70 cultural insight books on America, China, Japan, Korea and Mexico go to: www.cultural-insight-books.info


Boye Lafayette De Mente, internationally known author of pioneer books on the business practices, cultures and languages of China, Japan, Korean and Mexico, plus numerous other cultural-insight titles, founded the Arizona Authors Association in 1978 and became the first president by unanimous vote.

In addition to inaugurating a monthly newsletter, he also took the lead in sponsoring spring and fall seminars whose speakers included famous authors, agents, editors, publishers and book distributors from around the country. By the end of its first year the AAA had over 400 members. The following year De Mente initiated an annual Arizona Literary Contest and the Arizona Literary Magazine.

For the next seven years De Mente not only headed up the AAA, he continued to function as a prolific writer and as a small press publisher, becoming an approved vendor for the leading American bookstore chains as well shipping books to Australia, Japan, Europe and South Africa.

Born on November 12, 1928, to Elza Lafayette and Ruby (Bounds), in Mayberry, Missouri (a tiny isolated valley in the Ozark Hills of southeast Missouri with a population of some 37 people), the 4th of nine siblings, De Mente recalls the horse and buggy days. His family never owned an automobile until the 1950s. His maternal grandfather farmed, raised sugar cane and made molasses the old-fashioned way--with a mule pulling a grinder to crush the stalks and then boiling the juice in large flat-bed vats. His paternal grandfather was a farmer and raised cattle, hogs and horses. His father worked for logging operations as a cutter and sawyer.

Boye was going on seven years old when he started to school, and the following summer he began working with his father, helping him fell trees and cut logs for ties and stave bolts (the latter to make barrels). His job was to keep the long crosscut saw from flapping, as his father did all of the pulling and pushing of the saw. By the time he was ten he was working during the summer months in the sawdust pits of saw mills, underneath the carriage, hauling away the sawdust. He earned fifty cents a week.

One time while on a log-float down the Current River with his father, a log he stepped on rolled, causing him to fall into the river. A nail that someone had hammered into the log punctured his leg. He still has the scar.

When living in Redford (a tiny town of some 75 people a few miles from his birthplace in Mayberry), Boye and his brothers were fishing in a creek that ran through the town when he stepped on a water moccasin snake. It curled up around his foot and bit him. He spent the next ten minutes chasing the snake, trying to gig it. Then went home and told his mother. There were no doctors in the area, so she put kerosene on the punctures. He survived the poisonous, two-fang bite because it was under water and much of the poison was washed away. But his foot swelled up so large he couldn't wear a shoe on it for several weeks, and the skin peeled off twice.

When the family moved to St. Louis in 1941, Boye's first job was selling excess military supplies on a sidewalk in downtown. Then he worked in an ice cream parlor. He could eat anything he wanted free once a day, but restricted himself to only one scoop of peppermint ice cream per week. At age thirteen, he was practicing restraint.

Because of his performance record in elementary school, Boye was allowed to go from the fifth grade to the seventh grade, making up for his late start. He was 14 when he graduated from Peabody Elementary and entered McKinley High School. That same summer, before high school started, he went to work for the Lennox Hotel as a busboy, working the afternoon and evening shift during the week, and the early morning shift on weekends.

After school started De Mente would go to McKinley High at seven o'clock in the morning and do his homework in the gym before classes started. During his entire high school life he never took a book or homework home even once. He went directly from school to work.

But because he took five subjects instead of the usual four and went to summer school twice, he had enough credits to graduate in the spring of 1946--after an elapsed time of just two years and eight months. And, that's only the beginning of De Mente's extraordinary life.

Immediately after graduation at age 17, De Mente joined the U.S. Navy (1946-1948) first serving on the USS Fillmore, and then going to a Cryptographer School in Washington D. C. Apparently, because of his family name, it was believed he was Hispanic, and he ended up in the Spanish Language Department of the Naval Communication Supplementary Activities (NCSA), the Navy's intelligence arm.

Soon after his discharge from the Navy De Mente enlisted in the Army Security Agency (ASA), where he was promised faster promotions because of his cryptology background in the Navy. He was again assigned to Washington, D.C. where he was trained to operate IBM machines (the computers of the day!) creating indexes for breaking codes.

Expecting to be sent to Latin America because of his Spanish experience, De Mente was shipped to Japan instead, where he became part of a team of seven other IBM operators in a special code-breaking section of the ASA headquarters in Tokyo. The primary interest of the ASA in Japan at that time was Russia and North Korea.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950 President Harry Truman added a year to eighteen months to every enlistment, resulting in De Mente staying an additional year and a half in Tokyo. During his third year at ASA Tokyo, he took advantage of his off-duty time to found a newspaper called the ASA Star. Eventually, the very popular weekly propelled him into a full time editorship, and he has been writing full time ever since.

During these ASA years, De Mente also published his first book, "Japanese Simplified." For the book, he created a phonetic system for pronouncing Japanese in English, making it possible to use the language without having to go through a long learning process.

While still in the ASA in Tokyo De Mente took mail-order courses that got him two years credit at Tokyo's Jochi [Sophia] University. When he was discharged from the ASA in Colorado Springs in 1952, he hitchhiked to Phoenix, Arizona and enrolled at Thunderbird School of Global Management, in Glendale, known at that time as the American Institute for Foreign Trade (AIFT).

Back in 1946 when he was still serving on the USS Fillmore, Boye's sister Jessie, who lived in Phoenix, had sent him a clipping about the first class of this Institute with a note, "A nut like you might want to go to this kind of school some day." He received that letter on Christmas Day while sitting on an overturned bucket chipping paint on the fantail of the USS Fillmore. "It took me six years to get to the school but I did, much to my sister's delight," he said.

Graduating from AIFT in the spring of 1953, De Mente returned to Tokyo, got a daytime job at the Japan Travel Bureau and attended night classes at Jochi University, earning a degree in the Japanese language and in economics.

Between 1954 and 1962, De Mente's career as an editor went into fast forward through six Japanese magazines and newspapers. He acknowledges important friends who aided his dramatic transformations within the Asian world. His first full-time commercial job in journalism was with PREVIEW Magazine in the spring of 1954.

This very successful English language magazine was published in Tokyo by a former member of the American Occupational forces, Bob Booth, and in its heyday was the second-largest English language publication in Japan (after Reader's Digest). A former ASA colleague, Bob Black, was instrumental in getting De Mente appointed editor of the magazine, but within six months after he joined Preview it ceased publication because within two years after the end of the U.S. Occupation of Japan in 1952 the number of foreigners in Japan fell by over 90 percent.

When Preview magazine failed, De Mente and the former advertising sales manager, George Pokrovsky, a White [non-Communist] Russian born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, founded the Far East Reporter, another monthly magazine, with De Mente serving as the editor. But he also left this new magazine after only two months because it wasn't able to pay him a salary. (The now very successful successor to this magazine is still in publication, and over the decades De Mente has served as a contributing editor and currently has a monthly column in the magazine. It is still headed up by his old friend George Pokrovsky and George's son, Mike.)

After leaving the Far East Reporter, De Mente and a former Jochi University classmate, Lou Segaloff, got a subsidy from the American Embassy to publish a weekly newspaper called Kembun (meaning "See and Hear") as a propaganda sheet aimed at increasingly revolutionary Japanese university students. The subsidy dried up in six months.

This time De Mente joined with Marvin Meyer, an expatriate American from Philadelphia, to found the cultural magazine Today's Japan. While still with Today's Japan, De Mente took a second job on the swing-shift with The Japan Times, the largest English language newspaper in the country.

On the editorial staff, De Mente worked as a copy editor and headline writer. In 1957, while working at the Japan Times, an Australian adventurer named Ben Carlin showed up in Tokyo on an amphibious jeep called "Half-Safe" (named after the deodorant "Don't be Half-Safe!") on which he was circling the globe, and invited Boye to accompany him on the last major leg of the journey, crossing the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to Alaska.

That foolish and very dangerous trip was later memorialized by De Mente in his appropriately named book, ONCE A FOOL: From Japan to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep. The 4-month crossing of the North Pacific and Bering Sea made Life Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, and the Guinness Book of World Records.

During his recuperation from the trip in Phoenix, Arizona, De Mente's old Far Eastern Area Studies professor at AIFT, Emily Brown, called him and asked him if he wanted to go back to Tokyo and become the editor of a new trade magazine called Oriental America that had just been founded by a recent AIFT graduate, Ray Woodside.

De Mente naturally said yes, and took over editorship of the magazine in the spring of 1958. Soon thereafter, the decision was made to change the name of the publication to The IMPORTER--and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

[In September of that year, at the age of 29, Boye married Margaret Warren, a girl he had met in Phoenix while recuperating from the jeep trip across the Pacific. He "imported" her, and they were married in Tokyo. He says she has been a wonderful wife who allowed him to do his thing and helped rather than hindered him in everything he has done since they first met. They were to have two daughters, Dawn Ruby, born in Tokyo, and Demetra born in Phoenix.]

Within a year the newly named subscription-only IMPORTER Magazine was the most successful trade journal in Japan, playing a leading role in hundreds of Japanese manufacturers and exporters making their first post-World War II contacts with importers in the U.S. and Europe.

One of these companies was a small firm called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha. After advertising in ORIENTAL AMERICA, the predecessor to The IMPORTER, for three months (with a one-sixth of a page ad; the smallest size available), this small company got lined up with General Distributors in Canada and Delmonico in New York as importers of its new product--a tiny transistor radio. Five years later the company changed its name to Sony (which was the brand name of its little radio).

To mark the occasion, Sony sent a full-page ad to The IMPORTER. The English text of the ad was riddled with mistakes. Publisher Ray Woodside had the Japanese office manager call Sony and ask if they could correct the copy. Sony's office manager said no. De Mente and the office manager then went to Sony's headquarters in the Shinagawa district of Tokyo to try to convince them that the ad copy should be corrected. The office manager, who spoke no English, refused their request. IMPORTER publisher Woodside refused to run the ad. Thereafter, Sony boycotted the magazine.

In short order, The IMPORTER opened offices in Korea, Taiwan and, Hong Kong, and appointed agents in Bangkok, Singapore and Manila. As the editor, De Mente covered these areas, making regular trips out of Tokyo and later out of Hong Kong to interview makers and exporters and seek out new products to feature editorially in the magazine.

Newly established companies in these countries began advertising in The IMPORTER in large numbers, initiating a growth period that is remarkable in the annals of world trade.
[During this rapid growth period, The IMPORTER hired several other Thunderbird graduates, including Merle Hinrichs, recommended by De Mente, who started out as the ad manager in Hong Kong, ended up buying The IMPORTER, becoming the largest trade publisher in Asia with over 50 magazines, a major contributor to Thunderbird, and a member of the Board.]

Because De Mente could communicate with Japanese makers, exporters and foreign buyers who flocked to Japan during these years, he became a sort of middleman between them, trying to help each side understand the other side.

In late 1958 and early 1959, De Mente published a series of articles in the magazine on the Japanese way of doing business; how they think, and why they do certain things.
He then added an introduction and several new chapters to the collection of articles and sent the manuscript, entitled "Japanese Manners & Ethics in Business," to McGraw-Hill in New York. They turned it down, saying there was not enough market for that kind of book. He then sent it to Prentice-Hall. Same story.

The book was finally published in Tokyo by East Asia Publishing Co. in December 1959, and was an instant success, selling out three printings the first six months (and, ironically, is still in print today at McGraw-Hill...!). Interestingly, Printice-Hall also brought out an edition of the book before it ended up at M-H.] In later years the title of the book was changed to "Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business," and was the beginning of an "etiquette and ethics" series of books.

This was to be the beginning of De Mente's life-long career as a professional author. Following the success of "Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business," De Mente quickly wrote "Bachelor's Japan" to explain the male-oriented nighttime entertainment trades in Japan, including nightclubs, cabarets, and geisha houses, all of which played significant roles in both business and politics in Japan.

Several other books followed in quick order, including "How to Do Business with the Japanese," a nitty-gritty type of manual on how the Japanese system works, from manufacturing and wholesaling to the retail trade, along with the advertising industry and public relations in all of their various business aspects.

De Mente's first three books allowed him to retire from salaried employment in the summer of 1962. [He had the "business books on Japan market" totally to himself until 1968, when another title finally appeared.]

In the 1970s, 80s and 90s De Mente expanded his writing on Asia with books on Korea and China, including "Korean Etiquette & Ethics in Business" and "Chinese Etiquette & Ethics in Business," plus a series of language books that included an English language phonetic pronunciation system, along with a series of "Cultural Code Word" books on Japan, Korea, China and Mexico that have made him internationally known.

De Mente says that key words in languages are both the reservoir and vehicles of culture, and function as 'cultural codes." He adds that key words in the Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Mexican languages explain the attitudes, values and behavior of the people down to the most subtle nuance, and that he used these words as windows or gateways to explain the cultures of these countries.

Today De Mente's books are especially prized in business and university communities, and continue to enrich world-wide understanding between Asian and Western countries.

In addition to writing and publishing, De Mente's ability to 'live several lives at once,' turns up, not only in his professional author/consultant work on the business cultures of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico, but also in his lecturing at Thunderbird, his old alma mater, at Arizona State University, and at other universities around the this country.

De Mente has a fascinating right brain/left brain balance in his life. He quotes Japan's leading brain authority, Dr. Tadanobu Tsunoda, whose research has focused on the presence of vowels in the languages of "right brain" countries. Dr. Tsunoda says that since the languages of the Japanese and Polynesians are vowel heavy, the people tend toward right brain cultures, with emotional, imaginative, holistic and artistic behaviors. (De Mente served as one of Dr. Tsunoda's subjects in his experiments on the functioning of the two sides of the brain.)

In contrast, says Dr. Tsunoda, the languages of the Germans, British, Americans and Chinese create more activity on the left side with linear, logical, analytical thinking. In the middle, the Romance languages of the Mexicans, Spanish, Portuguese and Italians generate partially right brain orientation in that they are also vowel heavy.

"But," De Mente adds, "their attitudes and behavior are filled with contradictions, due in part to the programming of Catholicism, which is fundamentally irrational, and undermines some of the benefits of being dual-brained." [He has turned his knowledge of left-brain right-brain functioning into a book, "Which Side of Your Brain Am I Talking To?"]

"Our biggest shortcomings, our biggest enemies, are religious beliefs that are irrational and often anti-human," De Mente says. "Catholicism and Islam in particular have been and still are in many respects terrible religions. The truly humane and rational side of these religions is admirable, but religious leaders have traditionally distorted their purpose and role to shackle and control people by brain-washing them with beliefs that are not only irrational but also anti-human, even insane.

"All of the world's leading organized religions are cults by their very nature, and until they can rid themselves of this basic failing and become universal philosophies based on the facts of life, on reality, the world will continue to be roiled by violence and drenched in the blood of the guilty and innocents alike."

De Mente says there are millions of people who understand this and are working toward it in their own way, but that the desires and needs of human beings continue to be distorted and abused by leaders who have no respect for the feelings or the lives of others.

Human needs are simple, he says. "Personal freedom within the bounds of a democratic society should be the most fundamental of all human rights. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are prime examples of what can happen in a country when people are given freedom. As the result of the American implementation of democracy in Japan following World War II the people of that tiny nation turned it into the world's second largest economy in just thirty years--one of the most remarkable feats in the annals of humanity!"

His books range from the linear, logical analyses of language, business and universal wisdom to the exotic, sexual, sensual side of life inherent in Asian countries as well as Hawaii, Mexico and America.

What this country needs is more people like De Mente who have been "old" since age fifteen, with advanced, direction-oriented energies to live several lives in one; people who recall their own history and work alongside their parents in childhood capacities; people so dedicated to education that nothing stops their drive to learn, even when a sister says, "A nut like you might want to go to this kind of school (Thunderbird) some day."

This biography was compiled from information obtained during an interview with Boye Lafayette De Mente in his Paradise Valley, Arizona home on March 1, 2006.
To see a list and synopses of Boye's books go to his personal website: http://www.authorsonlinebookshop.com. Three of his latest books [2012]: THE MEXICAN MIND - Understanding & Appreciating Mexican Culture; JAPAN Understanding & Dealing with the New Japanese Way of Doing Business; CHINA Understanding & Dealing with the Chinese Way of Doing Business.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very good book. I work in a Korean Co. Very usefull points. Great opportunity to know in theory what I faced in practical reality. Lots of things are clearer now...! A very good book for starters in Korean culture interface. Covers from general aspects to details of daily situations. Easy to read. Subjects and capters ordered very well. A must-have-book for those who intend to work in Korea or in Korean Companies abroad. I strongly recommend. AV.
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Not bad at all. Chapters are broken up into sizeable chunks that are insightful and easy to read. My biggest complaint stems from the fact that despite the author's extensive knowledge of the Korean language, he refrains from using any Hangul in the book - only romanization or transliteration of key terms. This makes for a sloppy glossary.

Don't let this questionable editing mistake steer you away from this book - not only does it contain nugget after nugget of valuable information, it also contains a fantastic summary of ancient and modern Korea wrapped up in about 12 pages.

The author does well to tie in his knowledge of Japanese culture and business as it plays a big role in Korea. However, I would have liked more taboos and "do-not-do-this-you-impatient-foreign-businessperson" tidbits - although the book has plenty. I suppose the best feature of the book is it's instant pick-up-and-read aspect however, if the proper context isn't taken into account, I'm afraid that some of this book might be forgettable - which is a shame.

Perhaps it goes without saying that this book is applicable to anyone living in Korea and has thousands of applications outside the business world. A great read
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Format: Paperback
As an individual who works in many different Asian countries, I am always on the lookout for books that help explain business culture in foreign countries to help with my own understanding of living and working in another country. This is exactly what Korean Business Etiquette seeks to accomplish.

The book is broken down to the T about many different facets of Korean business culture, including an essential brief history of Korea's past*. The author does a wonderful job not only identifying important characteristics but also explaining the reasons behind them. Though it is mainly aimed for foreign workers in higher positions, employees working for Korean companies can also find use in the information presented.

On a personal note, I am currently working for a Korean company and had some very large misunderstandings about the management here. Though not completely cleared up, the cultural differences are at least translucent and much more understandable than before.

I truly do feel like the author made a great effort to exhaustively cover every major issue related to working as a foreign manager in Korea.

With these positive aspects, I would like to take a moment to issue a few constructively critical comments:
-*By far the biggest error I have seen is the author's brief history of the Korean war. Unfortunately, he made a grave error in his timeline which appears at the beginning of the book. Due to this serious error, it was difficult for me to take the rest of the book seriously. I would like to advise the author to carefully rewrite the chain of events in the Korean war section.

-One aspect I feel that is missing from this great book is a more personal approach.
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For those who are want to understand the nuisances of the Korean business culture, this book provides great insights and tips. I wish there was a summary chapter which outlines all the little mistakes that non-Koreans can make in Korea. Overall, the book contains plenty of useful advice but they are dispersed everywhere.

I am impressed with the depth of the writer's analysis and his efforts to understand the deep inner complex Korean psyche (fears and motivations) and traditions which drive the Korean business culture.

Shallow this book is not. Insightful it is.

The only reservation I have about this book is that it is somewhat outdated. Korea is a VERY rapidly changing society and this book would have been an apt description of its business culture back in the 1990s. For example, the author cautions the westerner on Korea's forceful drinking practices and overly hierachial nature of the Korean corporations. It is notable that Korean corporations and organizations have aggressively cracked down on excessive and forced drinking during company events. And corporations systematically weed out the older and more conservative managers in favor of the more westernized and more open counterpart because Korean corporations have found the need to globalize their corporate culture.

There is also a strong cultural gap between generations. In other words, there is no single Korean culture, but it differs quite considerably depending on demographics, education level, profession, and situation.

Many would find Koreans, especially the younger crowd, to be highly westernized and far from the confucious conservative ideal. The book makes Korea look almost archaic, draconian, insular in its business practices. That is no longer true.

I still recommend this book for those who want to understand Korea and its business culture. But only with the caveat that I mentioned above.
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