In the UK (where I am based), it's quite common for people who bump into each other in the street to start off a conversation by mentioning the weather. This can then lead into talk about what effects the good/bad weather has had, and more talk about what people have been doing, and so the conversation continues...

Of course 'small talk' can cover a whole range of topics, but I'm wondering if there are certain phrases one should expect to hear, or topics a learner should be prepared to talk about when they see an acquaintance?

One example I heard more than once was 살이 빠졌어요! - 'you lost some weight!' - which slightly put me on the back foot when it wasn't true! I also heard that 어디 가? - 'where are you going?', is common - this is something that might be seen as a bit nosy in the UK, depending on who you were talking to.

Are these common? Is there anything else should I be prepared for? Or does it just all depend on the situation?


1 Answer 1


I spent a great deal of my time in Korea walking from one place to another and I often had chance to talk with people. These are just my observations, which admittedly might be skewed due to the fact that I am a foreigner and what Koreans use as small talk between each other might not be the same things they say to foreigners like myself as small talk. Koreans on the site may have better/different input than me. The state of "being a 외국인" and things contingent to such was usually half of the small talk I engaged in.

The weather

As you mention, the weather is a commonly used topic for small talk. Korea seems to be no different in my experience.

요즘은 습기가 너무 많아요. It sure has been humid lately.

날시가 진짜 쌀쌀하네요! The weather sure is nippy!


Some Koreans like to talk (both domestic and foreign) politics, at least to foreigners. If I had ₩1000 for every time I have had someone ask me about Barrack Obama, I would be a millionaire. Maybe even in American Dollars.

I also was in Korea during a presidential election (이명박). We talked a lot on the street with people about 정동영, 이명박, and 이회창. (These are the three candidates I remember; there were like 10 of them).

After the passing of 노무현, I had a lot of people engage in small talk with me about his death.

Have you eaten yet?

A rather common phrase I heard/was asked on the street was "(아직) 식사했어요?" (Have you eaten?) They don't actually care if you have eaten. This threw me for a loop for a while, until I figured out what they actually meant. It is just a greeting, almost like the phrase "How's it going?" in English. People do not actually want to hear "how it's going."

Some Koreans liked to ask me if I had tried ________ food (fill in the blank with whatever you want), but I think this was just because I was a foreigner.

However, if you want to start a small talk conversation with a Korean, I found food to be a go to move. This is especially effective if you ask about a regional food. For example, when I was in 춘천, I asked about 닭갈비

예: "제일 맛이 있는 닭갈비집이 어디 있어요?"

Where is the tastiest chicken ribs restaurant? (My opinion: 청산 닭갈비).

Or if I was in 신당동 in Seoul, I would ask about 떡볶이.


One other thing that I heard discussed as small talk was health.

건강하세요? (lit.) Are you healthy?

I think this phrase is very much like "식사했어요?" They do not actually care about your health per se; it is just a way of starting small talk. Elderly people seemed to gravitate to this phrase.

  • 1
    I am a little shocked to read this answer. I am not sure how fluent you were when you lived in Korea, but you need to note that Korean people never talk about politicians, politics and regionalism (between 전라도 and 경상도, discrimination against 충청도 and 강원도, etc) unless they are very close. Yes, you are right. They might have talked about candidates and the late President Roh with you because you were a foreigner, but that's a big no. I don't even know how to start a small talk about politics with people I just met. If I do, people will stare at me and leave thinking I am crazy or drunk.
    – user7
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:18
  • Your answer will be much improved if Politics is removed.
    – user7
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:19
  • I tend to agree with @Rathony. Politics is definitely a topic, and even more so when talking to foreigners. But I wouldn't consider it a general small talk topic amongst Koreans. It's not something you could talk to anyone, whereas weather and food definitely is.
    – 파울울
    Oct 13, 2016 at 4:07
  • @rathony maybe so, but everyone talked about 노무현 Apr 7, 2017 at 14:47
  • They did have a parade for 노무현 after all. Sort of hard to NOT talk about politics then. And no one can claim that the people in the subway stations yelling 2번, 2번 during presidential elections are NOT talking about politics. I have seen and heard quite a few Koreans talking about 박근혜 as well. I also had many people ask me about Barrack Obama since he was elected while I was in Korea. Politics are a topic of discussion for sure.
    – Vladhagen
    Apr 7, 2017 at 15:42

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