KOREAN DRINKING ETIQUETTE
For those of you over the legal drinking age, do you remember who first introduced you to alcohol? Traditionally, Korean people regarded learning “how to drink” from their elders as the proper way because it was an essential training session for the up-and-comers to master the necessary etiquettes and manners required for drinking, so they can survive in a highly hierarchical Korean society with a myriad of unspoken rules. At the same time, it was a symbol of recognition and acceptance as a mature individual and a responsible member of the society and family, making it a great pleasure for the giver and a huge honor for the receiver. Most of the customs are believed to have originated from Hyangeumjurye 향음주례, a ceremonial gathering of intellectuals during the late Joseon Dynasty which provided lessons on drinking etiquettes and manners, so learning them will not only help you avoid making social faux pas when drinking with Korean people but help you appreciate the drinking scenes in Korean dramas as well!
- When receiving and giving a drink from/to an older person, use both hands to hold the glass/bottle. Alternatively, you can use the right hand to hold the glass/bottle while the left hand gently supports the wrist of the right hand.
- If you are drinking with a younger person or someone with the same age, you can use one hand, but if it’s your first time and you have not developed a close relationship yet (i.e., you’re still talking in formal jondaetmal 존댓말 to each other), use both hands until both parties agree.
- Always fill up the other person’s glass but don’t pour until their glass is completely empty.
- When drinking with an older person, turn your body away and drink with two hands. If you are sitting between older people, turn your body away to the less older person.
- When drinking in shot glasses, many would say that you have to finish the first drink in one shot. It’s not an obligation and you can be excused if you can’t drink a lot.
- If you are the youngest in a group, be on the watch and see if other people’s glasses are empty, you can grab the bottle and pour the drink, then the receiver would take the bottle from you and pour you a drink. If the bottle is too far from you, or there are multiple bottles scattered on the table, just focus on the people near you.
- Sometimes, the oldest person or the highest-ranked person in a group might drink first and then pass it around, so that everyone drinks out of the same glass! While such practice is rationalized as a way to build trust and solidarity, it’s something many people, especially the younger generation, want to avoid due to sanitary reasons. It’s a very difficult situation to be in, but they still choose to partake in the ceremony not to fall out of favor.
- Don’t pour your own drink. If you do, people will say that the person drinking with you will have misfortunes for 3 years! Of course, it’s just an urban legend of unknown origin, believed to have been made up to encourage people to actively participate in drinking by pouring each other.
- Don’t drink alone and wait for the oldest person of a group to propose a toast or lift his/her glass.
- Don’t drink in three separate sips as it’s reminiscent of offering alcohol to dead ancestors during jesa ceremony.
- Don’t outright refuse when offered a drink from an older person because “saving face” is important for older people. Instead, say that although you can’t drink it, you would gratefully accept the glass. You can then put it down on the table, and even clink together to keep pace with the other person. It’s all about keeping everyone in the loop, so just play along.