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How To Drink In Korea - The Korean Drinking Etiquettes

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Sujo is one of the most popular drinks in Korea

My Korean friend keeps telling me that one of the most common queries that many Americans planning a trip to her homeland have is “how to drink in Korea.” This she feels is partly due to the fact that the table manners in most Asian countries differ greatly from those followed in this part of the world and also, partly due to the reputation of Korea as a land of hard drinkers (which, she claims is not 100% true). Anyways, on my friend’s behalf, I am sharing few useful tips on proper drinking etiquettes in Korea. 

Drinking is an integral part of Korean culture and considered as a way of building/strengthening relations. Though, drinking etiquettes change from region to region, there are some universal rules that need to be followed, read on, and find out…

What to drink: Though, many non-alcoholic beverages are available in Korea – Koreans love their traditional alcoholic drinks. However, many Westerners are kind of wary about the various traditional drinks that the Koreans offer. Well, do not fret; here is a list of commonly consumed drinks in Korea: 

• Soju: is the most common and popular drink in Korea. It is a distilled alcohol made from either rice or sweet potato and contains around 20% to 45% alcohol by volume (ABV).

• Heuk Ju  is a type of Korean wine made from black rice. It contains up to 13% ABV.

• Baek Se Ju is a type of Heuk Ju, which is filtered and infused with ginseng. It contains up to 14% ABV. Baek Se Ju is supposed to be a kind of elixir with immense medicinal powers. 

• Chung Ha is a type of Korean sake.

Hold the bottle with both hands when offering drinks

• Makgeoli is most often drunk by the locals in the mountaineous regions of Korea. It is a type of unfiltered rice wine. People not used to hard drinking should observe caution with this drink for it is known to give the worst hangovers (6% ABV).

When to drink: Though non alcoholic drinks can be consumed at anytime, drinking alcohol during the day is usually frowned up on. However, things are fast changing and you can find Hofs (kind of Korean Pubs) open through the day in certain parts of the country. Also, drinking alcohol during meals is acceptable.

How to offer a drink: The Koreans have rigid rules to drinking right from who offers the drink, how he does it, and how a person accepts the drink. Now, it is not necessary that only the host should offer a drink, anybody and everybody on the table can offer drinks. When offering, it is customary to hold the bottle with both your hands, offering drinks with left hand is a faux pas. 

Hold your glass with both your hands when accepting a drinkHow to accept a drink: Always hold your glass with both your hands when accepting a drink from the host. If, the person offering the drink is elder to you or a superior in position, then it is customary to refuse the drink at least 3 times, before finally accepting the drink. Both – accepting to drink alcohol promptly and refusing too much are considered impolite.

How to drink: Koreans generally prefer to gulp down small shots of alcohol rather than to sip their drink (this they believe allows them to handle the alcohol better). Also, if you are drinking alcohol in front of your elders, you are supposed to turn away from them or cover your mouth with your hands while drinking. An important thing to remember here is, you are never supposed to fill your own glass – that’s considered as highly insulting. 

To conclude this small guide to drinking in Korea, when in doubt never feel shy to ask questions - your host will always be the best guide. You see, Koreans love their culture and are always eager to help others get accustomed to their way of life. Kon Bae (cheers!) 

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How To Drink In Korea - The Korean Drinking Etiquettes