South Korea is famous for its drinking culture - no Korean drama is complete without a scene where the leads bare their souls after bottles of soju. The drinking scene in Korea is much different from that in the United States, and there are many unspoken rules and customs that Korean people follow when they drink alcohol. We’ve created a guide to help you learn the Korean drinking culture.
The first thing to know is that drinking in Korea is a normal form of socializing, and it is not uncommon to be invited to drink with someone immediately after meeting them. Drinking is a huge bonding activity, and co-workers will often have dinners together after work where they will drink. It is such a common practice that it is frowned upon to not participate.
When employers and employees go out to drink together, they will often drink in “rounds.” In the first round, all the employees gather and drink together with a meal. In the second and third rounds, however, only those who enjoy drinking or are able to continue drinking will participate. Many times, everyone will move elsewhere for the following rounds, like a noraebang (노래방, meaning “singing room” or karaoke).
We previously released a design showcasing one of Korea’s most well-loved soju brands, Jinro. Learn more about the design in our blog:
Korean culture prioritizes honorifics and respecting your seniors, and this is especially true for the drinking culture. When drinking together, the senior pours all of their juniors’ drinks. If your senior (either in age or rank) offers you drinks, you are expected to accept all of them.
There is also etiquette for how you should pour or receive a drink from your seniors. When receiving a glass, you have to accept it with two hands, with your right hand holding the glass and left palm supporting the bottom. Make sure your head is slightly bowed as a respectful gesture. When you drink, you must turn away from your senior and cover the mouth and glass with your hands. If it’s your first drink, you also have to finish it in one shot!
Another rule is that you should fill everyone else’s glass but your own. If you see that someone’s glass is empty, you should pour them a drink. Someone else should do the same for you if your glass is empty.
Of course, these rules become much less strict if you’re drinking with your friends. Still, this should be a helpful baseline for you to follow if you ever go out drinking with Koreans.