K-Culture: Korean Drinking Etiquette

Drinking scenes on K-dramas aren’t just there for the piggyback and drunken confessions fans love. Those scenes actually show South Korea’s drinking custom. For Koreans, drinking is a way to get to know someone better. It is a tradition that offers an opportunity to build good relationship and camaraderie, particularly among work colleagues.


Just like most of the Korean traditions, their drinking culture could be traced back to its Three Kingdoms period. South Koreans consume alcohol to celebrate seasonal events and traditional holidays as well as to honor their ancestors. Although presently, people drink alcohol regardless of the occasion and as said earlier, become part of everyday social engagements.

Hoesik, which literally means “gathering to eat,” is a tradition of eating and drinking with colleagues after work-hours. Due to hierarchy brought in by Confucianism to Korean society, interacting with co-workers can be uptight in an ordinary situation. Through hoesik, co-workers are allowed to bond in a way that is different from the way they interact within the office.

Despite the more relaxed environment during hoesik, there is still some proper behavior expected when drinking with your Korean colleagues. To avoid offending someone due to cultural ignorance, here are some useful notes to remember.

1. Age Still Matters
Rules on showing respect to higher or senior person still apply during drinking escapades.People in the most senior position or the oldest should be offered the most respected at a Korean drinking table which is 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. The oldest person should also be offered alcohol first.

2. The Art of Pouring Alcohol
If you’ve watched office dramas, you probably noticed how newbies or younger workers bow their head when they pour drinks for their sunbae. Well, it is because there is an expected way of accepting and pouring a drink in Korea.

It is a tradition to offer and pour a drink to another adult respectfully with two hands. The same rule applies when receiving a drink. One should also turn his/her back to anyone of higher rank when drinking.

3. Anjoo
Hoesik (회식) is all about having a conversation while eating and drinking so it is imperative to serve or order food along with alcohol. Among the favorite Korean food during drinking sessions are fried chicken, chicken feet, samgyeopsal, and bulgogi.

4. Norebang

Hoesik usually involves multiple rounds of alcohol at multiple venues. And one favorite among Koreans are the norebang or karaoke bars. You should prepare your vocal chords as your colleagues would probably won’t stop until you grab the microphone and sing.

5. Drink Responsibly
The Korean saying, “don’t stop with one glass; three glasses are not enough; five glasses are a proper amount and seven glasses are too much (il bul, sam so, o ui, chil gwa)” is a reminder of drinking just the right amount of alcohol. There is no doubt Korea has a heavy drinking habit but one should remember that consuming alcohol in South Korea is not about getting drunk. It is about having an enjoyable interaction with another person.

From an outsiders point of view, these rules could be a nuisance and at times shocking. But Korean drinking tradition allows insight into their culture and social interaction.

The K-Culture segment will delve into norebang and Korean drinking snacks on its upcoming features. So, follow out blog!

References (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)
Image Source (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)



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