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Drink Like a Korean: Must Know Alcohol Etiquette in South Korea

Koreans consume the most amount of alcohol in the world.

It’s no surprise given that drinking is part of work culture and cheap liquor can be bought 24 hours a day in your nearest convenience store.

However, did you know that Korea also has a lot of etiquette when it comes to drinking?

Some of these rules are more liberal than others, so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to follow them or not.

Alcohol etiquette Korea

Types of Alcohol

The most common types of alcohol in a typical Korean setting are:

Soju – The most well-known type of Korean alcohol, it comes in regular and fruit flavours.

Makgeolli – This is a milk-based type of drink made with rice and it comes in many flavours.

Beer – The most typical beers you will see in a Korean restaurant are Cass and Kloud.

Chenha – this tastes similar to soju, but because it has a lower alcohol content it also goes down smoother.

Bokpunja – The least common drink on this list, this is a Korean fruit wine made from berries.

Basic Drinking Rules

One of the most important rules is that the youngest person is the one that pours the drinks for their elders, whether they are higher in rank or age.

When pouring alcohol, especially for the first time, you should use both hands to pour. If you are receiving alcohol, you should also hold your glass with both hands.

Although this is not always enforced, it is considered polite to turn your face slightly away from others when you are drinking. Cover your mouth with your hands. In other words, don’t make eye contact!

When someone older than you pours you a shot, you may drink a full shot or a half shot. Follow their example.

While it is considered bad luck to pour your own drink, many people don’t follow this rule if they pour a round for everyone.

If you get the last drop of alcohol in your cup, it is considered good luck.

If you see that someone’s glass is empty or almost empty, you should offer to refill it.

The last thing to keep in mind is that if you are in a situation where you don’t want to drink too much, always keep your glass half-full.

Drinking With Korean Co-Workers

Hoesik (회식) is a Korean term for eating and drinking with your boss and co-workers after work. The idea is that this strengthens your relationship with your co-workers. 

Most Korean workers must attend these events after work and drink with their boss.

It is considered very rude to refuse a drink (or ten) from your boss. If they pour you a glass, be sure to thank them! 

Drinking Games in Korea

There are two popular drinking games when it comes to soju bottles so save the bottle caps!

First, stuff the cap with tissue paper. Twist the end of the cap until it is tight. Go around the table and have everyone attempt to flick this off the cap. The person who wins is the one that flicks it off.

bottle cap drinking game

Depending on the rules, either everyone else drinks or the next person in the circle drinks.

The next person in the circle then looks at the number written on the cap. This is a number between 1 and 50. The others in the table try to guess the number. You can indicate whether it is higher or lower. The person that guesses the number is the winner. The losers either have to take a shot or carry out a punishment.

Hangover Cures

Korea has many hangover drinks available. The most popular one is called Condition. There are also hangover pills beside the cashier. I recommend you take both before your big night out.

hangover drink korea
Image Source:http://www.cjp.co.kr/eng/product/drink_food.asp

You can also sleep in a jimjibang (Korean sauna) and sweat out the toxins in the morning. Read this article to find out how to visit a jimjibang like a pro.

While these rules may seem overwhelming, they are not strictly enforced.

You will also get a lot of slack if you are a foreigner, and locals may be impressed that you are making an effort.

If you do something wrong, they can always correct you. If you are not sure what to do, see what everyone at the table is doing.

Remember not to drink too much!

If you do, there are many ways to cure a hangover.

Ready to party? Check out Seoul’s party districts. Need to get home safely in Korea? Check out our late night transport article.

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Kamilla Berdin
Kamilla Berdin

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