10 Rules In Korean Drinking Culture Not To Forget

Korean Drinking Culture

Korean life can’t be explained without talking about heavy drinking and drinking etiquette in South Korea. South Koreans drink a lot, and to understand this phenomenon better; we created a full-blown article to help you learn more about the Korean drinking culture. So without further ado, let’s dive into it!!!

Page Contents

Korean Drinking Culture

An image of a cup of soju

Soju (소주) and beer (맥주) are the most often chosen alcoholic beverages in Korea. If an older offers you a drink, you must accept it because of the country’s strict social order.

Drinking in Korea is about a lot more than just getting wasted. It’s about fostering relationships and expressing gratitude to your coworkers. A significant portion of Korean etiquette centers on demonstrating respect for our elders.

Drinking alone isn’t particularly frowned upon in Korea, but it is advised that you go out to bars with plenty of friends. Most Koreans don’t enjoy a night of drinking unless it includes platters of spicy, salty foods like fried chicken. Many countries have banned alcohol consumption, but looking at the condition of Korea, it seems like alcohol abuse is legal. And there seems to be no action taken on behalf of the Korean government.

Soju – The National Drink

Taking shots of soju is about as ordinary in Korea as taking water. However, in the US, they could indicate a regular Korean night as a crazy night as typical South Koreans drink 13.7 shots per week. That may sound like a lot, but soju has a moderate flavor and a lower ABV than alcoholic beverages. Drinking is a social lubricant for South Korea’s busy corporate professionals and students.

Getting Closer To Others

Koreans love to drink because it helps them get closer to others. They can make more partners easily, have better deals while drinking, and open up to someone after having a shot. This is why in most dramas, you must see the people either being at a bar or encouraging each other to go to the bar.

If you are in Korea and want to get closer to someone, then offer them a drink with you, which will let them know that you are interested in getting to know them without making it obvious.

Part Of The Work Culture

Every country has its own workplace rules and formalities. In South Korea, drinks are essential to an employee’s life. Having a job increases the rate of drinking for a Korean as opposed to the rest of the world because it’s encouraged to have a shot with your colleagues. This is considered to foster relations with colleagues and the boss.

If you are working in a South Korean company and you are invited to a company dinner, then be ready to have a drinking marathon in which your colleagues will encourage or maybe insist you have several shots. Try not to reject it since that’s considered highly inappropriate in terms of the Korean work culture.

Relieve Stress

Koreans have a lot of alcohol-related games and activities because they love drinking. One reason behind that is that alcohol-related activities help them relieve stress. Koreans study and work like robots which puts them under immense pressure, and thus they do not have any choice but to have a drink many times a day. Unfortunately, the liquor companies use this weakness; hence, most companies produce standard drinks for the masses.

Drinking Rules

An image of Koreans drinking

Let’s now discuss some of the most common rules that are an absolute must to know and master if you plan to go and live in Korea.

Rule #1: Respect The Seniors

As the Korean language has specific honorifics, the Korean people drinking alcohol also give protocol to their elders. If young adults are offered a drink by their seniors, there is no way that they would refuse it unless they have a beef with them.

If your elder offers you one shot, you drink it. If they offer you ten shots, what do you do? You drink them too. That’s how the drinking culture in Korea goes. That’s kind of against the Western culture in which the young ones are outspoken about their needs. The Korean people would instead put their needs aside, respecting their elders.

Rule #2: Respect The Hierarchy

Respecting the hierarchy is the key to mastering the Korean culture, including the drinking culture. The drinking starts in a manner of power/authority.

In a family, your grandparents will be the first to drink, followed by your parents, your older siblings, and then you. In an office, the CEO will be the first to drink, followed by the department managers, the project managers, and then you.

This is just to give you a general idea, so feel free to drink if you fit in any hierarchical position.

Rule #3: Pour Glass Using Both Hands

Our creator has given us two hands; therefore, Koreans love to use both hands. Be it giving a gift or pouring a drink, Koreans love to use both of their hands. You might get in real trouble if you do not use both hands to pour a drink to someone, especially an elder or your boss. The best way to mix in their culture is always to remember to use both hands while you pour a drink for someone.

Rule #4: Recieve The Drink With Both Hands

How can the person pouring the drink use both hands, but the receiver only uses one hand to take the drink? That would only be in cases where a younger person is pouring the glass to a prestigious authority or figure in the family.

If someone is pouring you a drink, try to show the best etiquettes you learned from the Ling App and take the glass using both hands. In old times, either the one with one hand only used to take the drink with one hand or the one who did that was left with one hand. There was no in-between (that’s a joke).

Rule #5: Senior’s Glass Over The Junior’s

While you are clinking the glass, make sure to remember the hierarchy. If a senior or your boss is clinking their glass with you, then clink your glass just so it stands slightly lower than your senior’s/boss’s glass. You do this to show respect to them.

I know you must be so frustrated because it’s such a minor detail that no one might notice, but trust me, Koreans do.

Rule #6: Cover Your Mouth While Drinking

Drinking while everyone can see your weird expressions is considered quite odd in the Korean drinking culture and is often frowned upon. You are expected to take your glass, turn your face to the other side, cover your mouth, and then have your drink.

Koreans love empty glasses but hate seeing the weird faces one makes while emptying them. This is the same for eating food too; Koreans prefer to cover their mouths when chewing the food.

Rule #7: Finish The Shot

If you are new to the drinking culture, you will find the Korean drinking culture quite hard as it emphasizes emptying the glass. You can’t leave the glass half full. Instead, you must keep drinking until the last sip of alcohol reaches your throat.

Rule #8: Don’t Fill Your Glass

While filling the glasses again, always leave your own glass and wait for someone else to fill it. Now you might wonder, “What if my glass is left empty?” Well, I assure you that while you are in Korea, your glass might be fuller than you want it to be, but never empty.

Before you fill everyone else’s glasses, someone from the gathering will also start filling your glass while thanking you for the drink. So don’t forget to thank them too.

Rule #9: Maintain Pace

These rules are general, but one of the most common unspoken rules is maintaining the pace. Koreans tend to drink alcohol according to everyone else’s speed. If you are a heavy drinker, but everyone else seems to consume fewer glasses, you are obligated to slow down and drink like everyone else.

If you drink rarely, then you’d rather be a slow-paced drinker. So if you think everyone around you is drinking too fast, you might as well want to drink a little quicker. Say cheers, or geonbae (건배) as they say in Korean, and viola! But don’t overdo that. If you think it might harm you, then be the odd one out and drink slowly.

Rule #10: Resist Peer Pressure

It might be too much to refuse to drink when a senior or your boss offers you a drink because hierarchy matters, but when it’s up to your colleagues, know your limits. Your peers might insist that you drink and drink until you are wasted. Don’t give in is my friendly advice.

It’s not a law to drink just because someone is insisting. However, it would help if you were not blunt or rude while refusing the drink. You can show that any more drinks might not be suitable for you. In this article, I will tell you how to refuse a drink without breaking the hearts of the people around you, so keep reading!

Hangover Cures

An image of Korean hangover soup

Now you must consider how Koreans can drink alcohol excessively yet function well in everyday life. The answer to that is simple, they have a lot of hangover cures.

You must have heard, “Modern problems require modern solutions?” and that’s true in this case too. As much as South Koreans are creative in their drinking styles and techniques, their minds work twice while searching for a hangover cure.

You should know about your body, and if you fail to drink responsibly and feel under the weather, you might want to go to a convenience store or ask your coworkers to fetch some medicines for you. Taking medication is essential if you have harsh liquor.

Here is the national hangover soup of Korea to cure any hangover:

Korean Haejangguk (해장국)

Korean Haejangguk (해장국) literally means hangover soup, and that’s exactly what it’s for. Sogogi Haejangguk uses sliced beef rather than shredded meat. Despite how spicy it is, the taste is robust. Pig spine Haejangguk, a favorite soup of millions of Koreans, is a relative of Gamja Tang (감자탕), or Korean potato stew.

  • Hwangtae Haejangguk (황태해장국) is a simple soup that includes dried pollack, a typical Korean fish.
  • Sunji Haejangguk (순지해장국) is the most popular hangover soup, contains congealed pig or cow blood. First-time users often experience an increase in energy. Pay attention to the yang variation (meaning tripe or cow stomach).
  • Ugeoji Haejangguk (우거지해장국) is a vegetable’s thick, fibrous outer leaf that resembles cabbage, known as ugeoji.
  • Soondubu Haejangguk (순두부해장국), AKA Tofu Haejangguk, is an almost vegetarian option, except for the minute chunks of beef.
  • Olgaengi Haejangguk (올갱이해장국), another gentler Haejangguks, comprises pellet-sized, somewhat chewy, and sharp-tasting marsh snails.
  • Kongnamul Haejangguk (콩나물해장국) uses bean sprouts, and this Haejangguk is perhaps the most westerner-friendly.
  • Bok Haejangguk (복해장국) having the word “bok” means puffer fish.
  • Sagol Haejangguk (사골해장국) is a dish with flavorful ingredients like scorching red pepper and soft meat morsels, which are beneficial for your bones.

Korean Dramas And Drinking Culture In Korea

An image of a K-drama drinking scene

Every Korean Drama has a drinking scene involving soju, whether it is consumed alone or with friends and coworkers. Soju is preferred by 70% of consumers, who put beer (22%) ahead of wine and other spirits.

Korean dramas show that once you are 19, you may legally purchase and consume alcohol (beer, wine, and spirits) in Korea. There is no time nor place limits on the sale of alcohol. In pubs and karaoke rooms, soju is freely consumed, but one must be ready for the subsequent embarrassing singing.

After a hard day at work, it’s also the go-to beverage for relaxing in the pojangmachas (outdoor tents). Many office workers in South Korea choose soju as a stress-relieving shot, as shown in the dramas. Soju is non-verbal, non-judgmental, and non-aggressive.

I would say the same for eating ramen and processed food too. Most Korean kids are seen going straight to the cafes from their workplaces, getting a cup of instant noodles, adding hot water to it, and getting a ready-made burger out of the freezer into the microwave and enjoying a scrumptious meal.

People, especially teens, have started following this trend, which has many adverse effects.

Binge Drinking: What’s One Shot?

More social drinking than drinking alone at home was the defining aspect of Korean drinking culture. Rather than taking a little sip at a time, people frequently drink one shot at a time. One shot means chugging down an entire glass.

Koreans usually have competitions among friends for who will have the most shots.

Is There A Downside?

The culture of drinking might drive one straight to the condition of drunkenness. One-shot drink of alcohol raises blood alcohol concentration typically fast. Many argue that group drinking policies should be addressed to prevent secondary negative consequences.

The blood rush causes individuals to have numerous adverse repercussions. It may give you asphyxia owing to puking or severe drunkenness generally accompanied by a neurological condition, with a highly likely experience of black-out.

The black-out may cause people issues, like lower skills of reasoning, poor impulse controls, lowered retentive recall, and downstream negative consequences, including aggression or robbery. Thus, consuming behaviors, including offering one-shot drinking, must be addressed. Individuals at partying events should be urged to be modest in their consumption of alcoholic beverages without forced requests for a one-shot drink.

How To Refuse A Drink Politely?

Now that we have told you about all the drinking rules, dos and don’t, and hazards of drinking too much, we are going to walk you through some simple steps to refuse drinking without being impolite.

Follow all the rules from Rule #1 to Rule #6 of drinking but don’t drink! Stop right there. You are supposed to touch the rim of the glass with your lips, and that’s it. Put it down. No need to drink it if you don’t want to drink it.

Koreans offer you drinks because they want to make you feel included, not so you could get liver cancer. So keep your glass full until you don’t want to drink. You might feel like a black sheep, but no one will force you.

In A Nutshell

When clinking glasses, you should change the height of your glass according to your age. You may pour as you like if they are younger or the same age. Taking your drink and turning your head to avoid looking at your senior is respectful.

In Korea, drinking is a technique to strengthen relationships with clients and employees. Alcohol businesses in Korea are said to have spent over $300 million on celebrity-driven ads.

There are no restrictions on the amount of alcohol that may be consumed, and this is because Korean liquor corporations have a lot of influence over the country’s politics. If caught, the maximum punishment is five years in jail and a fine of 20 million won.

Alcohol contributes significantly to domestic violence, arguments, relationship breakups, and general productivity loss. As a result, it is wise to be aware of some of Korea’s unspoken drinking laws.

Wrapping Up

That’s it for this blog post. Grab your Korean beer and start drinking with a couple of friends following all the rules you have just learned. If you like this blog post, you might also be interested in many other articles from Ling App, the fastest-growing site for learning new languages.

On Ling App, you can literally find everything. You can have everything from studying with the help of flashcards to getting long blog posts about a specific topic.

What are you waiting for? Download the Ling App now (IOS and Android) and start learning Korean like a pro!

Happy Learning!

Updated by: Gwyn

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