It might be very odd to drink with Korean people for the first time because you most probably have never experienced drinking that way before. However, you shouldn't be afraid; going out with Koreans when they go for drinks is one way to get closer to and impress Koreans. So let’s get familiar with Korean drinking culture!
One of the reasons people ‘have to’ drink is because they play drinking games! Those who win the games are usually good at drinking alcohol because they have already experienced playing the games as a first timer. First timers usually are not good at drinking games and end up losing. Of course, the loser must drink alcohol as a penalty.
You see, the reason for playing drinking games is to compel people to drink alcohol faster and have them down it easily. The main rule of drinking games is that the losers must drink. There are many varieties of drinking games; if you like party games, you might like them… although they’re completely different games from ordinary party games.
When you are required to drink, but think that you can’t handle the alcohol any longer, you can ask for help - especially if you are drinking in a college setting or with coworkers. A male helper is called a “Dark Knight” and a female helper is called a “Dark Rose.” When they drink alcohol for you, they can ask for one wish. The wish can be anything from a hug to your phone number!
Maybe that is why many people become couples after drinking alcohol together.
Pouring and Toasting Alcohol
Koreans often drink alcohol along with their meals, eating with friends or coworkers and ordering a beer or 'soju' by the bottle to share. In these situations, they pour their own alcohol, filling up each other’s glasses themselves while making small talk with no interruptions in the form of a bartender. Koreans drink 'soju' in a tiny soju shot glass and beer in a Korean beer glass. When you empty a glass, other people fill up your glass as a way to show kindness and interest towards you.
However, there are some people that simply don’t care about the culture that much and don’t mind pouring alcohol for themselves. In Korea, there’s a phrase about pouring a glass of alcohol for oneself - if you fill up your own glass, you won’t get married. Of course, it's only a joke.
Toasting can be very loud when people say “cheers!” with everyone shouting at once, but it can also be a relatively quiet affair with just two people toasting one another and clinking glasses. If someone keeps offering toasts, you can just clink the glass and put it down or pretend to drink.
After drinking alcohol with a meal, Koreans usually enjoy going to a Karaoke room. You may be surprised to find that most of them sound quite professional. Many Karaoke venues sell alcohol and some snacks.
People will be amazed if you can sing Korean songs with them.
Second Round and More
Drinking doesn’t usually end when your meal does. In fact, your meal is only the beginning, or round one. After two to three hours of staying there and drinking alcohol, Koreans opt to go to another place and drink more. Korean people tend to eat and drink as a first round, then go somewhere else for a second round of alcohol, then third, fourth and so on. Some of the many places to go after dinner are: karaoke, a snack bar, or even a convenience store. This can keep on going through the night.
Many places in South Korea that serve alcohol are open until at least 5 AM. Restaurants usually start opening around the time that those places close, so you can opt for some hangover food or you can go to 24-hour places to eat and drink again.
If you want to go out all night, make sure you have no schedule for the next day.
Drinking with People Older than You
In South Korea, age is a very important factor in the way you treat other people. This must be taken into account when you drink with people who are older than you.
When you drink with someone older than you, you should hold your glass with two hands when they pour alcohol for you. You should also hold the beer or soju bottle with two hands when you pour alcohol into their glasses. Furthermore, you should look away from them when you drink so that they don’t see you drinking alcohol.
It is also suggested to empty your glass when you drink, but it’s not a requirement.
Many Koreans say that if you want to get close to someone, you should drink with them. Personally, I am not sure whether we must drink to make friends. Supposedly, filling a glass means spreading love in Korea, but I still don’t understand that expression.
Koreans may seem like cold people because they don’t talk much about themselves, they don’t hang out after work, and things like that. However, many Koreans like to drink alcohol together. You can talk a lot while drinking, see how people behave when drunk, and laugh out loud together.
If you have any questions about Korean culture, I would like to help you out! Feel free to reach out to me. Thanks.
You can also read my Korean travel notes in dinophia.com!