The Yes' and No's of Drinking Culture In Korea

By Ryann Ellis

Alcohol is a staple part of Korean culture. With the ability to drink in public and the generally cheap prices of soju and beer, going out with friends or colleagues can be fun for a moderate price. However, did you know that there are rules of drinking etiquette in Korea? That’s right, just like many of the other mannerisms in the country, Korea has its own set of formal rules when it comes to drinking with others.

Part 1: Pouring Drinks

This may sound easy in your mind: take the bottle, pour the liquid. Though in theory, this is the simplest and most direct way of pouring a drink in Korea, it’s almost like an observation game. Typically, it is considered polite to fill any empty glass on the table that is not your own. Likewise, if your glass becomes empty, someone will typically offer to fill up your glass as well. This can be problematic if you had no plans of drinking the night away, but as a safe rule, if you don’t want to drink, accept the first glass, but never let your glass empty beyond that.

The next rule of pouring drinks comes with the way the glass is held on both ends of the party. To the individual pouring the drink, it’s important to hold the glass with both hands. One hand will hold the bottle while the other supports the pourer’s arm. It’s said that this was implemented when Koreans used to wear hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) and would have to move their sleeves so they wouldn’t become soiled.  Just as a common courtesy, you’ll probably not want to spill either when doing this. As soon as you’ve finished, place the bottle down and the party continues.

Cr: Wikipedia

Part 2: Receiving Drinks

If you find yourself with an empty glass and an individual holding the bottle towards you, the rule is pretty simple to follow: just like when pouring the drink, you will hold your glass with both hands. One will be supporting the bottom of your glass while the other holds it in place on your palm. As soon as your glass is poured, though it’s not necessary, a thank you and a small tip of the head can be done. Again, if you’re not in the mood to drink to your limit, just keep your glass full, but typically drinking one round is considered polite especially if you’re with co-workers or colleagues. If you’re not one to drink at all it is acceptable to let your friends or workers know too.

In Korea, it’s not uncommon for co-workers to gather around a table and drink together. It promotes bonding within the company and can be a great stress reliever as well. If all co-workers are generally the same age, some of these rules may not apply, but of course, it’s situational to how close you are with each other as well as the setting for the get-together. However, in many companies, younger individuals will partake in drinking with older individuals. Mannerisms between age gaps are huge in the country so it makes sense that there would be rules also circling around drinking with those older than you.

Cr: amydunkley

Part 3: Drinking with older individuals

As mentioned before, there are certain rules for drinking with older individuals. The prior rules very much apply to this situation, but there’s another twist. After an elder pours your drink, it’s considered polite to clink the bottle then turn away from the other to drink. The drink should be taken quickly before turning back to face the other, and it is considered polite to offer to pour a drink for the elder in return.

Finally, the best part of drinking is just to have fun. Whether it be for business or for pleasure, gathering around a table to talk or even play the multitude of Korean drinking games to pass the time can be an easy way to make great new friends and learn more about yourself and others at the same time. Happy drinking~



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