Nunchi refers to a concept in Korean culture that describes the subtle art and ability to listen and gauge others’ moods. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. In Korea, it is the person’s ‘kibun’ being read, which is his or her pride, mood, or state of mind. It is of central importance to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in Korean culture.

Nunchi is literally translated as ‘eye-measure.’ It is closely related to the broader concept of paralanguage (non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion), however nunchi also relies on an understanding of one’s status relative to the person with whom they’re interacting. It can be seen as the embodiment of skills necessary to communicate effectively in Korea’s high context culture. The concept of nunchi, and one’s abundance or lack thereof, forms the basis of many common expressions and idioms. For example, a socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta,’ meaning ‘absence of nunchi.’

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