Sunday, September 2, 2012

Soju Rules!

Drinking is such a deeply rooted tradition in Korea it is literally in their blood.  In 2008 South Koreans consumed 19.1 liters of Alcoholic beverages per capita, beating such renowned imbibers as Ireland, Germany and Russia. Every night it seems is Friday night as it is difficult to ignore the nightly bands of besotted businessmen tottering down the street in each other's arms. Koreans can be extremely welcoming to Westerners, if should you come to Korea to work or play, you may well end up hobbling down the street with them. But if you want to make a good impression, here are some things to remember when drinking with Koreans.

1) Respect your elders. Korean manners are built around showing respect to superiors. In general this refers to old people, but it also applies to those with higher social status, company position, and even people older by as little as a month.
2) Your right hand is better than your left. When pouring or receiving a drink (or anything), always hold the bottle or cup with your right hand. Sorry left-handers, traditional Korean society discriminates against you too.

3) Your left hand is not useless. If someone is a known superior you should hold your cup or bottle with both hands. This is the most deferential position.

4) Elbows are handy too. If you don't know your social relationship to the other person, keep your left hand at your elbow. This is a neutral position.

5) Your heart is really on the right side, not the left. Is the other person a friend? Then place your left hand against your chest. This is the most familiar position.
6) Empty your glass. If a superior wants to fill your glass, but it still has alcohol in it, shoot it down, and then flick the drips out on the floor (yes, the floor) before they pour. Be careful with this one. Extremely generous elders are liable to make your night so unforgettable you won't remember a thing the next morning. 

7) Glasses should be full. If you see that someone's glass is empty, especially a superior's, fill it. This makes the last rule even more dangerous.

8) Your mouth is ugly. When you drink, turn your head away from the most superior person at the table and cover your glass with your free hand. Are there lots of superior people? When in doubt, turn left.

9) Korean culture is very communal. People exist to help each other.  Thus, in general, do not pour your own glass. Someone else should pour for you. 

So much ritualization might tempt one to become a teetotaler in Korean company.  But don't worry! These are only guidelines. They are not enforced in Korean society.  So raise your soju glasses!  

"Geonbae!" "Cheers!" 

And drink responsibly (if the Koreans let you).

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