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How to Drink in Korea

October 20, 2008


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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.



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How to Drink in Korea


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  1. hi,

    I really love your videos :) i´d like to know what does it mean for Korean to drink a lot? i always thought, that asian people cannot bear a lot of alcohol? thx and keep it up :)

    3 years ago
  2. It’s these type of things that sometimes make me embarrassed to be Korean.
    These type of things don’t only happen in Korea though
    In regular Korean restraurants in California you see groups of people getting drunk and do weird things
    It’s not as illegal in the USA of course, but it’s not very appropriate either, especially when there are little kids around

    3 years ago
  3. o.O okay? umm i got very confussed as i watched this but its still funny :D

    4 years ago
  4. You have such a narrow mind. You cannot stand for international cultural average on drinking. Yeah, I saw many drunken Koreans strolling in public but the most ugly people drinking in public are foreigners. This is because I’m Korean. You might be more generous with foreigners carrying PET bottle of bear in public, as exactly the same way I see Koreans. That’s the only difference. 

    If there’s some thing weird, you should understand and respect them as curtural difference. Even Korean can say like this in Canada if they have cultural bias.

    4 years ago
  5. I want to go and teach English durning my gap year (if I don't get into university first time round) but I hate drinking, what other excusses can you use? I have no religion. Could I used my age as I'm hoping to teach when I'm 18/19 years old, can I use this?__I'm also from the UK, is there any way I could use that, say its not my cultural way?__I love your videos and your the reason that I want to teach in Korea with TaLK (the sister company to the one your under)__Thank you so much ^^

    5 years ago
    • How about you brush up on your English first before you teach it to others?

      3 years ago
    • I know people who, when they're filling glasses with beer or soju, would ask to have theirs filled with soda instead, so they can still do the drinking motion, but not consume any alcohol.

      5 years ago
  6. Hi o/
    I watched several of his videos about Korean culture and I found most fascinating. (I would like to go to Korea)

    But personally this kind of behavior in public is a little scary.

    In my country (Brazil) a person who gets drunk in public is definitely not well regarded, in fact they can easily be cut from social circles (depending on the region of the country).

    So I would like to ask you a question:
    Do Koreans tend to ignore the foreigners culture? For example, if me and my friend (a boy) show some skinship in public (likeour way of greeting each other), we would be frowned upon even though (obviously) foreigners?

    Ps: You two are the best =D~ (and I really like Spudgy, he's so cute *-*)
    Pps: Sorry for my english >w<

    5 years ago
    • Legal, eu nao sabia que tinha brasileiro que gostava da coreia!!! Eu sou brasileira, mais eu mudei para a escocia. ^^

      4 years ago
  7. I think that might be a bit much. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by the drinking culture. I just find it fascinating :D

    5 years ago
  8. Sam

    I really appreciate an objective point of view that you have about drinking in Korea. I'm a Korean but lived in the US for many years, so whenever I see anything that has to do with alcohol while visiting Korea I get a lot of cultural shock. I'm honestly ashamed and disgusted with some of the behavior people exhibit while drunk in public. Really, it creates a negative impression of our country to foreigners, especially those that have no idea about the culture and customs there. And I don't think "cultural difference" is an acceptable excuse for such behavior, in any case.

    Since I don't drink, I don't know the drinking customs very well, but I noticed that my older male relatives that I visit really seem eager to offer me drinks nowadays. I really hate that, as you have written, it is considered rude to simply refuse to drink at all. I just can't understand my own countrymen's ways, so I guess I really became Americanized.

    Nice videos, and keep up the good work!

    5 years ago