Korean drinking etiquette

Well, it’s Sunday afternoon and I am unfortunately suffering from a soju-induced 숙취 (hangover). After going out with some of our Korean friends last night now seems like the right time to climb out from under the duvet, stop watching K-dramas, let go of the water bottle, and write about Korean drinking etiquette.

Everyone knows that Koreans are fond of a drink or two at the end of a long, hard day at work. What is easy to forget however, is that the same social hierarchy rules still apply even when you’re all pie-eyed, holding each other up, and swaying unsteadily to Hey Jude in a norebang at 5am. As a foreigner you will of course be forgiven for not knowing all the rules, but if you do try and follow them you will earn major brownie points!

  • Never pour your own drink. Likewise, never let anyone else pour their own drink. Let them pour for you and then when their glass is empty (and not before!) you can return the favour. According to an old wives tale, if you leave someone with an empty glass for too long you curse them with an unhappy marriage…no pressure then.
  • There are three (yes, really) ways to hold the bottle when you pour. Firstly, if you’re pouring for your boss or an elder, you should hold it with both hands. For someone who is of a similar status as you, you can hold the bottle with your right hand and support your forearm with your left hand. Lastly, you can hold the bottle just with your right hand if it’s someone younger than you or a very close friend. The same rules apply for holding your glass when someone is pouring for you, and pretty much whenever you give or receive something in Korea.
  • Never decline a drink from the first round, you’ll ruin the atmosphere for everyone else. Drinking is a very important way of socialising here, so if you turn down a drink you might be seen as unsociable.
  • If you are drinking with your boss or someone of a higher social rank than you, it is polite to either turn your back or put your hand up to cover your glass while taking a drink. This stems from the idea that young people shouldn’t drink, but even when you’re ‘allowed’ you should still be discreet.
  • You can drink anytime, any place. Seriously. There are no laws against public drinking like we have in England. Similarly, drinking yourself into a stupor is not a weekend activity here, it happens every night of the week.
  • And the golden rule; the events of that night are never to be discussed the next morning. In fact, the only evidence of the evening’s frivolities are the delightfully named ‘kimchi flowers’, left splattered all over the pavement.

Holding the bottle and glass with two hands

2 comments on “Korean drinking etiquette

  1. I’ve heard that in Korea it’s polite to turn away when drinking.
    Japan has some similar, but not exactly the same, customs as Korea (for example, in Japan you should fill others’ glasses BEFORE the glass is empty)… but it’d be kinda rude here to turn your back on others even when having a drink.

    Anyways, please visit my blog about life in Tokyo.

  2. Pingback: How to survive a Korean night out | Amy in Wonderland

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