If you have not watched enough Korean dramas, then you would not know how influential drinking is in Korean culture. It is a part of the culture to the point it has a separate culture.
People might criticize me for saying this, but I do love to drink. Especially beer, I enjoy its taste and the socializing it comes with it. I do not enjoy however, the feeling of tipsiness and drunkenness; it’s just too much for me and my body. I have made good memories and friends while sharing a few rounds of drinks and gained life experiences, which includes learning not to drink too much.
Drinking in Korea and my fellow countrymen has been an experience, especially when drinking with co-workers. Today, I want to share what I have observed and learned about the Korean drinking culture.
If you want to dig deeper to the Korean history and culture of drinking, here is a link from Wikipedia.
Why do Koreans drink?
Koreans drink for all occasions like the rest of the world. Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year, a happy event, sad event or just for the sake of socializing. When I googled “How much do Koreans drink?” the results were funny. I didn’t click the links but the first two results stated, “South Koreans drink twice as much as Russians and more than five times as much as the Brits.” HAH!
I work for a Korean company and we have this thing called “Hweshik” minimum, once a month. It is basically an official company/department/team gathering with drinks. But the main point is to drink and listen to your boss say a bunch of stuff either is annoying, progressive or something you don’t understand. I used to enjoy it, now I just enjoy it when our boss is not there and it’s just us younger than 40’s people.
A lot of drinkers in the Korean society drink for marketing purposes or to seal a deal. People do drink to socialize but most of the time with a purpose and not just for the sake of friendship. I would say about 60~70% of Koreans drink for business and job-related purposes.
What do Koreans drink?
Just kidding. Koreans drink a lot. The “don’t mix different alcoholic drinks together” is an inapplicable rule in this country. Soju is the staple drink of Koreans and is used in every drink. Beer ranks second. So we have this thing called “So-mek” So is for Soju and mek is for mekju which means beer.
I don’t know in other companies but where I work at, the first 3 drinks is a round of so-meks. You pour a bit of soju and about less than half a glass with beer. You mix it together, say “geon-be!!!!!!!!!!!” and drink. In special cases, like when someone is new in the company, he or she will be asked to give a less than a minute toast. Also, at times, instead of screaming geon-be, they will give different statements. For example, I would ask them, “When I say ‘Business Innovation Team’ please respond by saying ‘FIGHTING!!!’ at the top of your lungs.” And we will do just that for our cheers. I don’t know how you think of this, but I am not a big fan of this. (Save me.)
After a typical 3 rounds of those, we proceed with drinking what we want. ONLY IF the highest person says, “Okay, drink comfortably. Drink what you want. Soju or beer.” You may proceed with drinking soju or change to beer or keep drinking so-mek.
But this doesn’t mean that Koreans don’t drink crafted beers or cocktails. The younger Korean generation has picked up the love for crafted beers and other international beer brands as well as gained more knowledge on cocktails. There are also fruit-flavored sojus and the girls love it! I personally love the pomegranate one. The apple and grape flavors are just, yuck to be honest. Don’t think lowly of the flavored sojus though! You will never know when it will hit you hard on the head! (Ito ang tama!!!)
How do Koreans drink?
(I taught my new-found-friend Jerome how Koreans drink. Clearly, it was funny.)
(Photo courtesy from Audine who took the shot and Jerome, himself for sharing it.)
What do you mean “how do Koreans drink?” Well, it’s different from the typical “tagay” of Filipinos or just having a bottle of beer for each person and drink at their own speed. Drinking culture in Korea has a set of rules, especially in the big corporate society or just plainly drinking with older people.
Let’s say you’re sharing a bottle of soju with a few people. When you drink with someone who is older or in a higher position than you are, like a senior or an upperclassman or your boss; you pour with both hands. One is pouring like you normally would and your other hand will be maybe used as support while pouring or just pour with both hands. The same sets of rules apply when you’re receiving a drink from someone who is “higher” than you are.
Remember! Do not pour your own drink. Always ask someone quietly to pour you a drink if no one does. Typically, someone will fill your empty glass even if you don’t ask when they see that it’s empty. They think it’s disrespectful to pour your own glass. So we are typically on the lookout for empty glasses. It becomes less tedious when you get used to it and is embedded in your bodily habits. I usually tell people that I will pour my own glass when I am comfortable enough with them.
This is not the end of the rules/etiquette though. (Thank you to my brother who pointed this out.) After the drinks have been poured and the geon-be!!!!!!!!! has been shared, it’s time to drink your glass/shot. You drink with both hands as well, the same as when you would accept a drink. Then you face away to the side to drink it. Face where?! Away from the person older or higher than you are. If people on both sides are older or higher than you are, away from the older or higher person. Confusing, I know.
What is “cheers” in Korean?
Of course, a separate drinking culture is not complete if it doesn’t have its own vocabulary for “cheers”. It’s “geon-be.”
I don’t need to expound on this topic. Lol.
Where do Koreans drink?
So you’re watching a Korean drama and a couple is drinking in a tent-covered street stall that sells soju and some food. Did you know that those places are typically pretty expensive? Don’t be fooled by its appearance. The food is expensive though the booze price is the same as any other store.
Koreans would normally go to some meat place and have maybe some samgyeopsal and if on a big budget, eat some expensive Korean beef. Or if it’s something less formal, we go to chicken places to have chi-mek which is chicken and mekju (beer). Friends, I love chicken and beer, so if you are in the area – let me know.
Some people like to move around to different places for drinks, so after the dinner and drinks is done, we proceed to round 2. We go to an izakaya (Japanese) or a drinks place that sells anju (food taken with drinks/pulutan). Or they just stay in one place if it’s appropriate to do so. Most of the time, they will move to 2~3 places. For “hweshik” it normally ends at the first place or the second place. At times, I am forced to go home though I want to stay more since I am a girl. It’s a cultural thing here.
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I do am trying to walk and post more but real life is trying to eat me whole.
‘Til the next post, keep walking! 😉