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In South Korea, when you eat at a cheap eating establishment (in "cheap" I mean such establishments where one menu costs about 5,000 KRW to 12,000 KRW and usually in a bit old establishment) and finished the payment, it is usually the case that you and a waiter exchange "안녕하세요~" just before you leave the restaurant.

Usually, when I first say 안녕하세요, the waiter responds not by "안녕하세요~" but by "네~~~ 안녕하세요~".

So, I feel that it is not correct to just respond by "안녕하세요"; if the opponent said it first, you must follow it with "네~~~" (stretch the end out a bit).

Is my guess correct here? If you are greeted "안녕하세요" before you issue it, is it impolite or otherwise inappropriate to just return "안녕하세요"? Also, does this vary by the relationship with the two (e.g. younger vs elderly)?

  • Are you sure you're hearing '안녕하세요' when leaving? Normally 안녕하세요? is asked as a greeting when first meeting someone; When leaving, a person would be more likely to be told '안녕히 가세요' (go peacefully), which could sound similar if said quickly. – topo Reinstate Monica Oct 14 '17 at 8:16
  • @topomorto I believe I was and I know the phrase as well. Usually it is not that common to get '안녕하세요' since it is usually I who initiated it. But IIRC sometimes I got it before I issue. – Blaszard Oct 14 '17 at 10:49
  • As a native Korean I will never say 안녕'하세요' when someone is leaving: and as topo said, 안녕'히 가세요' is indeed a correct phrase to say in the situation. – PenPoint Oct 14 '17 at 12:45
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    In my experience living in Seoul for over three years, 안녕하세요 is equally, if not more, commonly used as a goodbye – especially in more "local" situations. 안녕히 가세요 may be more often heard in commercial environments such as chain shops, where the staff are strictly trained. I agree with your guess. Generally, the more you say, the more polite it sounds ;) – Teddy Cross Oct 17 '17 at 2:42
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As a Korean, I can translate it into English like this:

Oh~~~ hello

You can just respond "안녕하세요", but "네~ 안녕하세요" sounds more friendly and is used more often.

In this expression, '네' is basically used to respond affirmatively (positively) to someone. (polite form)

It has a emotional meaning - to tell someone that you are hearing affirmatively, and sympathetically. This is the reason that '네, 안녕하세요' sounds more friendly.

  • would you ever say '안녕하세요' when you were saying goodbye to a person? – topo Reinstate Monica Oct 16 '17 at 19:31
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    Goodbye is '안녕히 가세요' – jun Oct 17 '17 at 9:22
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As a hello (when meeting someone), '안녕하세요?' means something like 'are you getting on peacefully?', - possibly not so far away from 'how are you?' in English. As in English, you don't have to interpret it literally as a question that needs a reply, but you can do so - so just saying '안녕하세요?' - 'How are you'? is fine, or '네, 안녕하세요?' - 'Yes, I'm doing fine, how are you?' - are both valid options.

Using '안녕하세요?' or '안녕하세요' as a goodbye is not standard Korean. however, Koreans - especially those who work in shops and have to say these things dozens or hundreds of times a day - do often pronounce '안녕히 가세요' - 'go in peace' - so fast that it sounds almost identical to '안녕하세요?' to my (non-Korean) ears.

As a non-native speaker it's still probably safest to stick to the standard goodbyes:

안녕히 가세요 - 'go in peace'

This is used if the other person is leaving the place where you both are at the moment. Or if the person is staying there and you are leaving:

안녕히 계세요 - 'stay in peace'

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