7 Rules to Drink Like a Korean

7 Rules to Drink Like a Korean

Intern Shyun here with some sage advice if you ever visit my motherland, South Korea or find yourself drinking with a bunch of Koreans.

Many believe that Americans, with our Bud Lights and neon-colored alcoholic beverages, are the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world.

However, according to the World Health Organization, the United States is 48th globally in terms of alcohol consumption per capita. Up higher on the list are Spain, Belgium, and, at number 14, South Korea.

In Korea, drinking is not just an activity, but a ritual where formalities must be met, pride is on the line, and not being able to handle your liquor is a sign of weakness. Even Anthony Bourdain knows what’s up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, he got so drunk filming Parts Unknown in Korea that they had to rearrange the episode. I've also gone through this ruthless form of natural selection multiple times. As a former member of the Korean National Tae Kwon Do Team as well as having family back in Seoul, it became apparent that my fraternity training of drinking $11.99 vodka was not enough to save me.

Now I know what you're saying: "Soju is just 20% alcohol while vodka is 40%!" Congratulations for googling that. However, I'm here to tell you that since it’s less alcohol per shot, it's hard to track how drunk you get because the shots can move into the high teens, or even into the twenties if you're being aggressive. But fear not, being the altruistic human that I am, I have compiled a list of formalities from my experiences for you novices. 

  1. Never pour your own drink.

Never, ever pour your own drink. Always make sure that you pour for someone else, and watch your drinking mates’' glasses attentively to see if they need a refill. When you receive a drink, hold it with both hands.

  1. If you are younger than someone, make sure that their shot glass is always full.

Seniority reigns supreme in Korea. If someone in the table is older than you, make sure that their glass is full at all time. POUR WITH BOTH HANDS. If you're a foreigner and you keep this up, they'll pat you on the back and feed you food.

  1. If you're drinking in front of your boss, turn your head away while you take the shot.

This is an important one. After you clink glasses (maintain strong eye contact, like you would stare down a big mountain lion or a corporate headhunter), turn away and pull the shot. It's a chance for you to make a face in privacy before returning to the table ready to go.

  1. When you cheers, your glass should be lower/higher based on age.

When you clink glasses, adjust your shot glass so that your glass is lower than your seniors and higher than your juniors. Easy concept, but hard in execution after about 20 shots of soju.

  1. Finish your shot.

Koreans didn't survive Japanese imperialism, the Korean War, the exploding Galaxy Note 7, and North Korea by being weak. Finish your shot. Own it. 

  1. Resist Peer Pressure

While you think you're having an amicable KBBQ outing, the people around you will most likely be noticing how much you've been drinking. If you haven't been drinking enough, they'll try to force you to drink. Politely smile and refuse. If you succumb to the pressure, they know they have you.

  1. Maintain Pace

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Maintain your pacing, and conserve energy.


Follow these 7 steps, and you'll being hanging with the best.