Korean drinking patterns and manners have undergone some changes in recent years, but many of the old drinking rules are still followed.
When the host proposes a drink to a guest, the latter should pick up and hold the glass, using both hands. When the drink is poured, the guest should turn away from the host, to show respect, and drink it quickly. S/he should not the glass down on the table, but rather return the hospitality by offering the same glass, now empty, to the host and then pouring the latter a drink. These days this practice is more common among people in their late 40's and older.
Even when offering a person the same glass one has just used, it is becoming increasingly common to ask permission of the person who will be receiving the drink if they agree to use the same glass. If yes, turn the glass upside down to completely empty it and offer that glass of alcohol right away without eating any side dishes. Always offer the glass in the right hand.
When an elderly person is offering alcohol, tradition dictates that the person receiving the drink should stand up and take the glass with both hands after bowing. When the elderly person has stopped pouring, the receiver can sit back down and drink. Do not drink before the elder person raises the glass and do not decline the glass that the elder person is offering. These days most people just get up to kneel and take the glass courteously with both hands. You can choose to not drink in most circumstances now, as well..
If you don't much like to drink, until very recently you would be expected to drink at least the first glass when you attended a drinking round so as not to ruin the drinking mood. If you do drink a little, it's best not to decline the first glass of alcohol. However, if you don't drink at all, say so up front and these days that will generally be accepted and no offense will be taken.
The most respected spot at a Korean drinking table is usually the place on an ondol floor nearest to the fireplace or the place where you can sit against a wall and view the entrance door. If you are drinking with a person older than you, have them sit at this spot. This applies also to those in superior positions to you.
At the drinking table, offer alcohol to the oldest person first. The person pouring the drink should pour with both hands in courteous manner. Hold the beer/soju bottle with your right hand, place your left hand lightly under your right arm and be careful to keep the sleeve and lower end of clothes out of the food and drink.
The traditional Korean rule is that you never fill your own glass. If the bottle is on the table, always fill up the other person’s glass when it is empty, especially if he/she is older or higher in status than you. Never fill the glass if it is partially filled. If someone empties his glass and passes it to you, hold it up with two hands to be filled. Don’t hold onto another person’s glass too long; return it promptly. If you area light drinker, are unsure of the potency of the alcohol being served or prefer to enjoy the evening with a clear mind, just keep your glass half full.
A Korean saying that defines the 'proper' amount to drink is "il bul, sam so, o ui, chil gwa", meaning "don't stop with one glass; three glasses are not enough; five glasses is a proper amount and seven glasses is too much."
Getting drunk quickly has been the name of the game in Korea and there is a high consumption of hard liquors. Bombs (boilermakers, etc) where a shot of whisky is dropped into a beer mug and then drunk as quickly as possible are popular. Soju is viewed as a quick and inexpensive way to get drunk, while whiskey is seen as a more luxurious route to take and so it is often the choice when one wants to impress. Drinking games are also very popular and generally often someone downing drinks all at once, in 'one-shot'
Traditionally, Koreans believe it is courteous to serve food (anjoo) along with alcoholic beverage. A bottle of whiskey often comes as part of a “set,” which usually includes several kinds of food such as dried fish, fruit, etc. Various chasers, from club soda to fruit juice to beer, are also offered along with the whiskey. To help the revelers 'sober up' and/or reduce hangovers, canned coffee or Chinese tea are served as the party begins to wind up. Some drinkers will have some milk before they start drinking in order to 'coat' their stomach against the harsh effect of strong liquor.
Click here for more information on drinking norms.
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Last Updated on 2015-04-13
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