- Korean Drinking Culture starts in College.
- Korean Drinking Culture is tied to Korean Work Culture.
- Easy Accessibility of Alcohol
- Endorsement of Alcoholic Drinks by Korean Celebrities
- Alcohol regulations in Korea
- Rules to drinking in Korea
- Rule #1 Penalty for being late
- Rule #2 Down the first shot
- Rule #3 No empty glasses
- Rule #4: Don’t pour yourself a drink
- Rule #5 Glass position based on age
- Rule #6 Pour with two hands to your elders
- Rule #7 Accept Alcohol with two hands from your elders
- Rule #8 Turn away when taking your drink in front of your elders.
- Rule #9 Only Two Reasons for not drinking
- Korean Drinking Games
- Hangover Nation
Koreans are known to get down with the best of them when it comes to drinking and partying. South Koreans drink more liquor than anyone else in the world. For example, the average American drinks about three shots of hard liquor a week. The average South Korean in Korea drinks on average 13.7 shots a week. The drink of choice in Korea is, by far, Soju. Soju and Korean beer are key in bringing people together for a good time. It is estimated that South Korea sells over 9 million bottles of Soju every single night! This is not only because South Korea has a work-hard and party-hard culture that has been around for decades. This article will dive deep into the Korean drinking culture and why South Koreans drink so much.
So the next time you visit South Korea, you will understand Korea’s drinking scene and know what to expect.
Korean Drinking Culture starts in College.
There is a massive drinking culture at many of the Universities in Korea. It is almost like a right of passage for many students. There are university entrance parties, department parties, sporting events, club events, and much more that make drinking very prevalent on all college campuses in Korea. Many colleges in South Korea have been criticized for encouraging drinking among students during college freshman retreats. However, nothing has changed over the years. So why do college students in Korea drink so much?
Depression, stresses related to their studies, and trying to get the best scores results in students looking to relieve their stress by drinking. Furthermore, getting into Universities in Korea is very difficult. Most students spend their high school years studying to get into the best schools. Therefore once in, many look to catch up on the fun they missed out on during high school.
Korean Drinking Culture is tied to Korean Work Culture.
South Koreans are known to work some of the longest hours of anyone. Koreans are under constant stress and pressure from their company to perform. Therefore, once working hours finish, Koreans want to release their stress by eating, partying, and drinking. Korean are naturally shy, and alcohol is a way to open up. Even the shyest Korean becomes much more talkative after a few shots of soju. Therefore going for some drinks is a way to quickly break the ice to get to know each other better.
Hoesik (Company Get-Togethers)
Most companies have a get-together called Hoesik, where a lot of drinking and bonding takes place. Hoesik plays a vital role in the Korean drinking culture. Most Hoesiks don’t stay in one location but have multiple “rounds” that eventually lead to Karaoke. Drinking in Korea is looked at as a way to build bonds in business and with your coworkers. It also allows employees to air company issues freely, even with their bosses. In a way, these companies’ get-togethers are not just a way to relieve stress but are an important part of building a stronger connection with your team. Therefore, it is frowned upon if you don’t attend Hoesiks.
Easy Accessibility of Alcohol
The legal age for drinking in Korea is officially 19. However, ID checks are not common in restaurants. If an underage person finds a restaurant that does not check for ID, this will be the go-to place for underage kids, which will drive business to the restaurant. Soju can be found pretty much anywhere in Korea. You can even drink at a movie theater in Korea. Compound this with the fact that a bottle of soju is super cheap (Around $1), and you have a nation where nearly 1.6 million of its citizens are alcoholics.
Endorsement of Alcoholic Drinks by Korean Celebrities
There are currently no restrictions on alcohol advertising in South Korea. Therefore, beer and soju brands in Korea rely a lot on celebrities to promote their products. For example, Kpop stars IU, PSY, Lee Hyori, BTS, Irene, and Suzy have done soju ads in the past. It is estimated that alcohol companies in Korea spent over $300 million on advertisements that showcase Korean celebrities.
It is rare to see an advertisement for Korean alcohol that doesn’t have a Korean celebrity promoting it. Furthermore, Korean dramas and movies tend to normalize heavy drinking and portray it as a normal part of Korean life. Many feel that this has been a major reason why there has been an increase in underage drinking in Korea over the past few years.
Alcohol regulations in Korea
There are no laws in Korea regarding how much alcohol you can consume. None is expected to come anytime soon. This is because liquor companies in Korea hold a lot of power and influence over politicians in Korea. This is why South Korea has the world’s highest cases of liver disease.
The Korean government has tried to discourage drinking by lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol content to 0.03%, down from the 0.05% that had been the standard for over 58 years. If caught, there is a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a 20 million fine. However, this has caused no slowdown in drinking in Korea, as most Koreans take a taxi after a heavy night of drinking. There are even services in Korea where you can call a “designated driver” who will drive you back home in your car.
There are many police stations across Korea, which is surprising because South Korea is seen as a safe country. However, many police stations are very busy dealing with incidents involving overdrinking. Alcohol plays a heavy role in domestic abuse, fights, relationship breakups, and overall loss of productivity. Close to half of all police reports are alcohol-related.
The cost of policing drunks and medically treating them cost the Korean government an estimated $25 billion annually. Furthermore, prosecutors do not file charges for cases involving drunks. The reason is that most judges and prosecutors are lenient towards drunken behavior. This is a major reason why many sexual assault cases are not prosecuted properly. Incidents involving intoxication typically involve an overnight stay at the police station and, at worst, a small fine.
Rules to drinking in Korea
Drinking will always be a part of Korean culture. Therefore, it is good to know some of the unwritten rules regarding drinking in Korea. A lot of these rules apply when drinking with elders or superiors. To fully understand Korean drinking culture, you will need to drink in Korea, which is why it is critical to know some rules.
Rule #1 Penalty for being late
There will be a penalty for being late to any kind of social or work gathering when drinking is involved. If you are going to be late, expect to drink to “catch up” with the others. Usually, it is one full shot if you are lucky, but the standard is to take three drinks consecutively.
Rule #2 Down the first shot
It is a common rule in Korea that the first shot or drink, you drink it all. You can take your time from that point on, but that first drink is a “one-shot.” Koreans know how to get the party started right away.
Rule #3 No empty glasses
There should be no empty glasses on the table. If you see a glass empty, you should pour them another drink. Therefore those that don’t want to drink should leave their glass half empty. Only if a glass is empty should alcohol be poured.
Rule #4: Don’t pour yourself a drink
If your glass is empty, someone will pour you a drink eventually. Try not to pour your drink. A tip would be to find an empty glass of another person and pour them a drink. They should, in turn, pour you a drink as well.
Rule #5 Glass position based on age
When you clink glasses, you should adjust your glass so that your glass is either lower or higher based on age. For example, if you are older, your glass should be higher. If you are younger, your glass should be lower. If you don’t know the person’s age, this will not apply.
Rule #6 Pour with two hands to your elders
When pouring elders a shot or beer, use both hands. You can also use one hand and your other hand on your elbow or chest. This is a sign of respect. You can pour whatever you want if they are younger or the same age. This is why Koreans are constantly asking each other how old they are.
Rule #7 Accept Alcohol with two hands from your elders
When accepting alcohol, accept with two hands. Yes, this also applies to small soju glasses. Again if it is not your elder, you can accept the drink however you like. But it is advised just to accept two hands-on on any occasion.
Rule #8 Turn away when taking your drink in front of your elders.
It is a sign of respect to not look at your elder when taking your drink. One of the strangest rules in Korean drinking. You must turn away and drink almost in secret.
Rule #9 Only Two Reasons for not drinking
There are only two reasons that are acceptable for not drinking. One is for religious reasons, and the other is for medical reasons. Any other reason will be frowned upon, so if you do not feel like drinking, say you are taking medication.
Korean Drinking Games
Korean drinking games are a part of Korean drinking culture. You will most likely play a Korean drinking game when drinking in Korea. While there are too many to list, we will focus on the three main ones, so you are not lost when it happens.
Bottle Cap Game/Up-Down
Take a soju cap and put a tissue in it to hide the hidden number. Twist the loose part until it is straight. Make sure you don’t tear off the loose part. Then take turns flicking the loose part with your finger. The person who flicks it off does not have to drink. Rather the person to the left and right of you will have to drink. The two losers will then play rock, scissors, and paper, and the winner will get to see the hidden number inside the cap. Then the other will go around trying to guess the number. The person who knows the number will say up or down based on the number. The point is not to get the number. If you get the number, you will have to drink.
Baskin Robbins 31
This is one of the quickest and simplest Korean drinking games you will play. A player will say a number from 1 to 3. Then the next player will add either 1, 2, or 3 to the number said. This goes on until a person is forced to say 31. That person has to take a shot.
You will need a beer glass and a soju shot glass for this game. Fill the glass with beer. Then put the soju glass in the beer glass so that the soju glass floats. Players will take turns pouring soju into the soju glass. Players can put as little or as much soju as they want. Whoever makes the small glass sink drinks the whole glass. One of the most dangerous games as it requires one person to take a full So-Mak (Soju+Beer) shot.
When you walk the streets of Gangnam, Hongdae, Itaewon, etc., you will see both young and old walking the streets drunk. Sunday mornings, it is not unusual to see pigeons eating vomit left by people who over drank. There might even be several people passed out on the street! Hangovers in Korea are so bad that there is even a site called “Black Out Korea.” This is where ex-pats in Korea posted pictures of Koreans drunk all across Korea.
This has also resulted in Korea having some of the world’s best hangover drinks and foods. You can consume these hangover drinks before, during, or after drinking. There are also a variety of hangover foods to eat after a night of heavy drinking. Therefore, if you are planning to get wasted in Korea, know that there are many solutions for your eventual hangover. We hope this article was helpful, and remember, drink responsibly….stay thirsty, my friends.