South Korea’s Drinking Culture: What is and What’s NOT

Drinking in South Korea has been considered to be vital to their culture. It has been a way to get to know people you just met, to bond with your friends, to loosen up after a hard day’s work, and even to get more acquainted with your co-workers.

With the varying occasions and situations Koreans will be in to have a drinking session, it has been statistically proven by the World Health Organization in 2014 that South Korea is 15th highest in the world to consume alcohol, with findings that for every person, they consume an average of 12.5 liters per year!

Let’s break down why drinking culture has been very prevalent in South Korea:

1. Drinking alcohol has been part of numerous traditions

Alcohol consumption has been deeply engraved in South Korea’s history and culture. Starting from the Goryo Dynasty when Koreans were introduced to the foreign technique of distilling, drinking alcoholic beverages became part of celebrating traditional or national holidays including Dano, Daeboreum, and Seollal or the Korean New Year. It has been a way to honor their ancestors as well as to get friendly with neighbors.

2. Take a sip, break the ice

Speaking of getting friendly with neighbors, Koreans feel that drinking alcohol gets to help build relationships. With just a few sips of soju, people get to loosen up, therefore, opening up much easier to each other. This is why people who get to know each other only recently go to drink alcohol to get to know each other better and for friends to get closer.

3. It is part of their work culture

Once in a while, hoesik or work dinners are arranged among colleagues and their bosses and of course, alcohol will be included in their menu. Like drinking with friends to bond and get closer, drinking in these work dinners have the same premise. Therefore, it is kind of frowned upon if you refuse to join.

The soup alone is tasty with thick broth, and the cheese flavor is an excellent amalgamation of Western and Korean influences. Typical ingredients are spam, ramyeon, rice cakes, sausages, veggies, and sliced cheese.

4. You’re younger? Respect your elders!

 An important indication that South Korea has a next level drinking culture is the etiquette that comes along with it. With the amalgamation of the value of hierarchy that is unmistakably a norm in South Korea, the rules in drinking have been a common knowledge to Koreans. When you are to drink with someone older than you, they will be pouring you a drink possibly numerous times throughout your drinking session, and you have no choice but to accept them with both of your hands every time to respect and please them. You cannot drink while facing them either!

5. It’s a stress reliever

Whether in work or in school, you’ll get stressed. So, drinking alcohol after a long day of working your butt off is the way Koreans do to release stress, say what has been bothering them, relax, and just enjoy the rest of the day. 

6. Alcohol is very much accessible

Apart from being available at any convenience store and groceries around, Korea does not really have a very strict policy with the purchase and selling of alcoholic beverages, with no set period of time to sell and buy alcohol. Price of alcoholic beverages are also very cheap in Korea as you can buy one bottle of soju for less than 2,000 won.

We can say that drinking culture in Korea has been a way to connect and unwind. But we must also remember to drink moderately and responsibly! Also, have your haejangguk or your hangover soup prepared the next day!

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