Research File: Drinking in S.Korea

When I was in S.Korea I realised rather quickly that drinking is a big part of how they do business. Upon reflection, drinking came hand in hand with dinner (and sometimes lunch) and without being forced upon people, it was almost expected. I had the opportunity to dine (and drink) with an array of people in S.Korea but the most memorable was the time we spent in Busan. We spent one night in Busan, spent the day doing collaborative work with the students and then in the evening we went out for dinner, which then ended in a Karaoke bar. The entire night was payed for by the university, it really highlighted that it was more then just generosity but the way they do business.

I decided to look more into the cultural traditions of drinking and how it adds to or alters the dinning experience. Similarly to the traditions related to dining, drinking has a lot to do with respecting your elders. The concept of respecting your elders links back to the Confusion Times (Joseon Dynasty 1392-1897) as one of the main teachings was respecting your elders. Therefore, just like dining, drinking with people older then you has alot of rules.

Being invited for drinks by someone ‘above’ you is seen as one of the biggest compliments. This is both in a professional and personal situation. Taking colleagues out for drinks is how the “higher-ups” show their inferiors that they actually care about them. You can also show your boss respect by having perfect drinking etiquette all night. Apparently, if your boss keeps refilling your soju cup, they really like you. S.Korea has some of the worlds longest working hours  in the world and drinking can be seen a way of relieve the stress. Therefore, companies happily foot the bill for any staff related drinking.

Some basic drinking etiquette:

  • It’s vital everyone’s cups always have at least a little alcohol in it.
  • It’s impolite to leave a friends glass empty.
  • It’s also impolite to refuse a drink.
  • There’s particular ways to open a soju bottle.

Koreans prefer to drink Beer, Soju or Makgeolli. They also mix their beer with soju to make “SoMaek”. The younger generations usually partake in a number of drinking games.

Useful Website:

When doing my research I wasn’t surprised to find many articles on the drinking problems in S.Korea. None of the articles were from S. Korea but by writers who has been there.




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