Soju Drinking Culture

There are many things that are very different between South Korea and your country, be it the language, the food, the people – the list goes on and on. But one thing is just as true here as it is at home: people like to gather, socialize, and unwind with a drink (or 12) with friends, old and new. Alcohol is the universal social lubricant and a night of drinking with new people is a great way to initiate and cement long-term friendships. Drinking holds a special and significant role in Korean culture, going back many years, and therefore has collected many customs around the activity over this long history. There are some unique characteristic of Korean drinking culture that you need to know if you want to blend well into your environment and avoid offending any locals.

Soju Man

SOJU! You just learned your first and most important Korean word! This starch based liquor is a staple in Seoul and the rest of Korea and comes in many flavours (though the fruity flavours seem to be a relatively recent development).

Soju Flavours

In any bar, pub, or restaurant you enter you will see numerous green bottles (all emptied of course) covering table tops. Shoot it, sip it, mix it with your beer – there doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to consume Soju, but there are some ritualized aspects of the deceptively sweet beverage that you must know before cracking open your first bottle.

Before removing the cap, don’t forget to mix it up! Grab the bottle firmly and rotate it so that the top spins – if you don’t see a tornado in the bottle neck you haven’t done it correctly! See that bubbly spiral? OK good – we can move on.

Soju Spiral

When pouring out shots be sure to start with the oldest at the table; Koreans are highly aware of a social hierarchy based on age and this deference to older individuals is also present in drinking culture. As a sign of respect to your elder hold the bottle with both hands when pouring, and later when drinking your Soju don’t make direct eye contact with the elder or even turn your body slightly away from the table; this usually applies only in more formal settings or with a significant age difference but when in doubt, err on the side of caution and be respectful.

Soju Pouring

Work your way through the table until every glass is full EXCEPT YOUR OWN; a key rule of Soju consumption is to never pour your own drink, simply set the bottle down and one of your friends will be more than happy to fill up your glass. Now that all the little cups are full, it is traditional to shoot the first glass; refills can be consumed in any manner chosen. It is considered rude to let someone’s glass empty for too long so keep a watchful eye on the table and be sure to keep the Soju coming!

This post may make it seem that drinking is an over-complicated affair but don’t worry! Koreans make a night of drinking very fun with a multitude of excellent drinking games – look forward to a future post sharing some of my favorites!

건배 / Geonbae / Cheers !!



Article by Kavneet from Canada

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