I was visiting Korea (강원도 춘천시) recently and needed to ask directions to a building on a college campus. (강원대학교 for those who are interested). I was on foot and I did not immediately see a campus map anywhere, so I decided to ask someone who was walking by where to find the building.

As could be expected, most of the people on the college campus were in their early to mid-twenties. I (being in my early 30s) am likely older than most of them. However, there were a few individuals on campus for whom it was impossible to determine an exact age. The were dressed semi-formally and could have been a young professor. Maybe they were older than me, maybe they were younger.

Because I did not know how to address these people of ambiguous age, I opted to just use wait for a person that was definitely younger than me and ask them where to go.

However, this made me ponder on how I might address someone I did not know (and hence whose name I did not know) on the street if they looked to be roughly my same age. Using a term like "선생님" seems a bit too formal; using a term like "아저씨" feels a bit too demeaning.

How can I address someone who looks to be around my age when I need to speak to them once on the street for information and will likely never know their name?

  • 1
    I personally don't speak panmal to anyone that i don't know regardless of age; how would children learn to be polite if nobody spoke to them politely? Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 15:58
  • 1
    I guess I should preface my question by stating that 반말 is clearly not an option here.
    – Vladhagen
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


For strangers being approached in real life, 반말 is never an option. 존댓말 is obligatory, and is mostly 해요체 - informal (as this isn't a business meeting) but polite.

However, whether you need honorificity (e.g. the 시 infix) is debatable. The context would mean that the topic of conversation would never involve the stranger anyway, and that should give you an inkling as to the "right" answer. Remember that "you" is not a concept that is required in Korean grammar (unlike other "pro-drop" languages like e.g. Spanish). So the most natural thing to do is to avoid personal pronouns.

But then of course, how do you call a stranger's attention? That's easy, as there's in effect only one set phrase in common use: 저기요!


Interrupt a stranger for the purpose of further communication by saying:

실례합니다 (shee-lay hamneeda)

A frequently heard substitution to this is:

죄송합니다 (chay-sohng hamneeda)

However, according to 연세어학당 asking for forgiveness to interrupt someone is not necessary.

Both are made more fluid when combined with 만~ as you begin your question:

죄송합니다만 도와 주실 수 있습니까? (Forgive me, can you help me?)

실례합니다만 학생식당이 어디 있습니까? (Excuse me, where is the student cafeteria?)

As a jocularity, if they turn out to be Japanese and not Korean, just excuse yourself once more:



The problem is difficult for me, too. I add more on Michaelyus's answer (When I was twenties, I use 저기요 but nowadays I use avoiding personal pronouns)

As I observe Koreans (who knows Korean culture well in my thought), they use 사장님 (owner of small company) or 선생님 (teacher) inside of building and use avoiding outside :

길 좀 물으께요 I will ask some question about direction

or 강의실은 어디로 가면 되요? How can I reach to a lecture room ?

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