From Korea with Love

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Korea’s Drinking Culture


Koreans like to drink “soju” with “samgyupsal“.

The other day, Khan woke me up with a text which read, “Yobo, do you wanna drink with me tonight?’ I didn’t feel like drinking, but I figured that it was better to spend the night in a hoff with my husband than to stay home watching replays on TV. After my usual afternoon nap, I finished all the house chores, took a shower, got dressed and put on my make up. When he arrived, I was still getting ready, but he didn’t seem to mind. He waited patiently until I finished with my make up.

That day, he was in a good mood.

Koreans like to drink in groups. As they say, “The more, the merrier.” ^^

We left the house before 7 and scoured Janghyeon looking for a hoff that we haven’t been to. (I think we have been to ALL the hoffs and restaurants in my husband’s hometown. ^^) We walked around for hours, but we just couldn’t find the right place. Also, we were looking for company, but friends seemed too busy, so I called up Hyoung Chul Ajubonim (Jhun, brother-in-law) and asked him if he wanted to drink with us. He said he couldn’t, because he was going to meet Omonim and Abonim (parents-in-law).

Finally, Khan and I got tired of walking with nowhere to go EXACTLY, so we decided to give Ajubonim a surprise by visiting him and Ka Yong (his fiancee) in their apartment which is a few blocks away from where we live. We persuaded them to drink with us and they finally gave in. First, they would meet Omonim and Abonim, and then drink with us.

I don’t get it. It’s a Japanese bar but the best~selling drink is (still the unbeatable alcoholic beverage in Korea) soju.

There’s a new Japanese restaurant in Janghyeon that Khan suggested we try. The place is very small, but it’s cozy and not too crowded.  I tried ‘Sake’ (Japanese traditional  liquor) for the first time, but I didn’t like it at all.  The barbecue we ordered was superb, though.

Khan noticed that I didn’t get a drink. I thought that I could get away with it, but he said, “Yobo, I really wanna drink with you.” “Well, there’s no harm in drinking a little,” I thought, so I told Khan to order ‘Maehwasu’ for me.  He didn’t like the taste of ‘Sake’, too, so he drank ‘Soju‘.  ‘Soju’ is the most popular liquor in Korea. I have tried it before, but the taste is just too bitter for me.  Sometimes, when my husband wants to drink with me, I drink either ‘Maehwasu’ (plum) or ‘Bokbunjaju‘ (wild strawberry).  These drinks have lower alcohol content compared to ‘Soju’.

‘Bokbunjaju’ (wild strawberry)

I used to be a teetotaler, but in Korea, it’s almost impossible to avoid drinking, since majority of men and women here drink. It’s as common as ‘Kimchi’ on the table. I had my first beer IN KOREA five years ago, the first time I came here.  I got drunk for the first time IN KOREA.

I’m not fond of drinking, but at times, I have to drink, because I now live in a country where DRINKING is a way of life. Drinking in Korea is not only enjoyed during parties or special events. It’s part of any social activity. Some businessmen make business deals while drinking; families and friends drink like there is no tomorrow when they get-together on Chuseok (Thanksgiving) and Seollal (Lunar New Year). DRINKING has become part of Korea’s identity.

Koreans even have a DRINKING CULTURE which I consider complex.  There are basic etiquettes to follow, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a Korean or a foreigner. When you’re in Korea, and you dine and drink with Koreans, you are expected to follow these drinking etiquettes.  For instance, when somebody pours you a drink, you shouldn’t refuse it even if you don’t drink.  It would be rude not to accept it, since the act of pouring somebody a drink is a symbol of friendship or affection.  This happened to me many times. It’s a good thing that my husband’s friends are all considerate.  When I refuse a drink, they don’t make a fuss about it.  Besides, Khan would inform his friends that I don’t drink.  Most of his closest friends whom I constantly meet don’t pour liquor into my glass. They either pour me some soda, wine (like ‘Bokbunjaju’) or water.  ^^

Sometimes, Khan’s friends would also hold up their empty glass to me, so that I would pour them a drink… but my husband would take the bottle and do the pouring instead of me.  It’s not a taboo for women to pour drinks to men if they’re friends, but my husband is a little conservative.  Pouring a drink to someone has a lot to do with status or position. My husband told me that I should pour drinks only to him or to closest family members who are older than me.

My husband hands wine to my father~in~law with one hand pressed on his chest. It’s a symbol of reverence.

Pouring drinks is usually from senior to junior. If you’re younger than the other person, and you’re the one pouring a drink, you should hold the bottle in your right hand and put your left hand on the bottle or on the right elbow; sometimes on your right chest (as if you’re singing the national anthem). When you receive a drink from an older person, you should hold the glass with both hands. On the other hand, if you’re drinking with friends, you don’t have to follow the ‘pouring ritual’.

Koreans like to toast, too. They say ‘Geonbae’ and drink bottoms up. Oh, there’s another important thing to remember when you toast with a senior, if you’re younger, you should hold your glass a bit lower than that of the older person.

Whew! There are still more to mention, but to discuss all of them would take up most of my free time. Are there any drinking rituals in Korea that you can share?

If my Mom is reading this, DON’T WORRY, MOM… I haven’t turned into a drunkard yet… ^^ (as if that’s going to happen.)

3 thoughts on “Korea’s Drinking Culture

  1. Now I know why my Korean colleague who is a Senior to me, was surprised and even amazed at me when he saw how I hold the glass when he is pouring me some soju. I hold it with my right hand and my left hand is placed at the bottom of the glass. I actually saw it in a lot of K-Drama’s and they were doing it that way. I never knew that these gestures are actually a big deal for them.
    Plus, that same korean sunbae drinks a lot, almost every night I heard of him drinking with clients or other korean friends maybe. I thought he is somehow problematic or stressed because of his drinking habit, but this explains the reason. Haha
    And thanks to him, I and my other colleagues enjoyed eating to a lot of Korean Restaurant and even experienced Karaoke multiple times.

    By the way, I enjoy reading your blogs. I accidentally came across to one of your blogs (Pali pali culture), when I was searching that word because I always heard that expression while watching Korean Dramas. I’ve been a fan of Koreans (anything related) for the longest time, and I am always curious about their culture and their way of living. So hearing from you (I mean reading from your posts), I want to express my gratitude for satisfying my curiosity.

    More Powers!


  2. Pingback: What Koreans Like to Eat and Drink on Rainy Days « From Korea with Love

  3. Pingback: My Korean Husband Drinks… Should I Be Bothered? « From Korea with Love

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