The Drinking Culture of South Korea

Korean Alcohol and A Tradition of Manners

South Koreans love their alcohol. It’s a huge part of their lives. It’s so important it is almost an obligation to drink. Traditionally, Koreans drink alcohol to celebrate important holidays and seasons, such as New Year, Rice Planting and their Day of Thanks. Their drinking involved rituals showing respect for ancestors and elders. This tradition dates back to before 1000 AD when foreign influences brought alcohol to their shores.

Confucianism dominated the beliefs of Koreans for a very long time in its history. From the late 1300s onwards to the late 1900s, Koreans held on to certain rules of etiquette and belief practices. By the mid-1300s, manners began to define the culture of drinking alcohol in South Korea. There are many such rules, mostly pertaining to respect for elders.

One such tradition then, called “Hyanguemjurye”, was the gathering of Confucian scholars and elders drinking together and discussing and learning proper drinking manners. It became important that when persons come of age and are allowed to indulge in alcohol, they are taught to do it properly.

In modern times, rules may have changed somehow, but vestiges of respect for more important people, as elders, work superiors, and the socially important types are still afforded their due. There are rules of etiquette that define pouring and receiving drinks. Here comes one pouring the drink into another person’s cup with respect by holding the cup with the right hand being held lightly with the left hand. Using the wrong hand is considered rude. Offering the cup with both hands is also required etiquette, as well as offering refills. Receiving drinks must also be done politely with expressions of gratitude.

In South Korea, when you are an ordinary worker and are invited out for drinks by a superior, you are being paid a huge compliment, actually one of the highest you can receive. It is also a way for your superior to demonstrate his care and concern for you. You return the favor by showing your superior your perfect drinking etiquette. If the boss constantly re-fills your cup, it’s a sign that he really likes you.

This hierarchical drinking scenario is prevalent in South Korea, especially in the workplace. They regard drinking together as an avenue of expression of respect and support otherwise not shown in other settings. Hence, drinking is that important to loosen up and release tension and misunderstandings in the workplace.

Respectfully Drinking in Bellevue

Where Koreans gather at our tables in Seoul Hot Pot, expect old traditions at play. Nonetheless, our young and old diners, including our international guests, enjoy their South Korean beverages all the time.