October 20, 2008
We understand that this might be a sensitive post. Let us begin by saying that not everyone in Korea is a drunkard. What we want to talk about is the differences in the drinking culture here in Korea compared to what we’re used to in Canada. Not everybody drinks excessively here in Korea the same way not everyone in Canada drinks excessively. But, when you do go out for drinking here, be prepared for a different mentality, approach, and game plan. Follow these steps and you should blend right in.
1) Don’t Decline the First Round – Even if you’re not a drinker, you should accept the first glass poured for you. If you decline, you’ll ruin the drinking mood. Afterwards, you’re safe, and can back out. Cite religious or health reasons if you must, but – be warned – drinking is an important part of Korean socializing, and if you refuse then you won’t be considered sociable. This is high-school peer pressure to a whole new level. So, when you finally cave, and give in to drinking with others, watch out for the next step
2) Watch Your Hands – Never pour your own drink, for starters, and never let anyone pour their own drinks. Afterwards, when someone older than you offers you a drink, hold the glass with two hands. When you pour a drink for someone older than you, hold the bottle with two hands. It sounds odd, but you’ll get used to it. In fact, we recently met up with a friend here in Korea, and he was fully confused to see us holding our glasses when he poured out beer. Finally, refill someone’s glass if you see that it’s empty as well.
3) Don’t Stop Drinking – The big difference between Korean and Western drinking is how we handle our limits. See, the way I’ve been raised is to respect my limits; if we get to the point that we’re drunk then it’s time to stop, drink some water, and sober up. Mission accomplished! The Korean attitude is different here. Getting drunk is only half the battle. Once you are drunk, the real challenge is in how much more you can drink before you drop. And when you drop it is only a timeout for you; get back on your feet and drink some more.
4) Encourage Others – It is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to drink beyond your limits here in Korea, as your friends will goad you on. We’re used to saying “Chug Chug Chug!” back home; here, you’ll often hear “One shot! One shot!” which – obviously – suggests that you should drink it all down in just one shot (but it’s beyond me why this is in English and not Korean). As well, instead of the “cheers” we’re used to saying, get prepared to say “Kon-Bay!” before you clink your glasses.
5) Drink in Public – There are no laws against public consumption of alcohol or against public drunkenness. Drunk and Disorderly conduct – though not appreciated – is common. After all, the restaurants people eat and drink in are too small to house all of their customers, so many people eat and drink outside. In fact, quite often we’ll see people drinking outside of convenience stores, as rickety plastic tables and chairs have been set out for people to sit and drink at.
6) Drink Any Day You Want – What surprises us the most about drinking here is that it is done every day of the week, and isn’t necessarily strongest during the weekends. When we walk around Bucheon on Wednesday nights we see people in business suits shouting Kon-Bay and slamming down shots of Soju, then staggering home just as they would on the weekend.
7) Have a Meal With that Drink – While we’re used to thinking in terms of having a drink with our meal, here in Korea the mentality is often to have a meal with that drink: the alcohol is the main course while small shared appetizers compliment the drink. Small fruit salads or crackers and chips will go nicely with that Soju.
This post was inspired by this movie here. We were walking around Bucheon on Friday night and saw two men violently hugging each other. We watched them for a bit and realized they were drunk. Then we realized that this had to be captured on film. You’ll see just how drunk people can get in public here in Korea. You should also know that, after we stopped filming, all four people walked right back into the bar for what we assume will be more alcohol. The worst part about it all is that we’ve seen this time and time again. Drinking is a big part of Korean Culture, and – as a result – so has become drunkenness.