Read 20598 times

  • mrjinglescf
  • Veteran

    • 140

    • March 05, 2012, 07:31:28 am
    • Seoul
    more
Some insight into korean drinking culture
« on: September 23, 2012, 10:34:45 pm »
So i have been living in Korea for a little while now. I approached social life with the same mentality that i would in the west, all the while understanding that I have to honor colloquial customs. Everywhere I was met with closed doors, any time I tried to meet people in normal situations, such as the book store or at a cafe, I was ignored or rebuked. I just didn’t understand what was going on.  I thrive in meeting new people and learning about different cultures and ways of life. But it was impossible here.

The reason why was revealed in one of the most boring conversations i have ever had. During a casual chat with a Korean with whom we were trying mightily to forge a friendship despite that we had nothing in common and our conversation dance was all left feet. But, I managed to gleam a gem. I said I like to meet people in cafes. She said: “How is that possible. They aren’t drinking.” When i heard this I knew it was invaluable information but I didn’t really know how to process it.

I pondered how this tidbit could fit in the 2000 piece labyrinthine puzzle that is Korea. I realized that in a collective society one can not make a potentially unpopular choice or violate a Confucian custom in public. A collective society has a borgian collective mind, if one makes an individual decision it is assumed that one makes a collective decision, one for the entire mass of people in the culture. Except for the condoned time where this oppressive weight is cast off- when drinking. Drinking is a necessary element in a Confucian society, it is a cathartic experience that allows an ephemeral departure from custom. “What happens with somac stays with somac.” In this situation, and, it seems only this situation, for a typical Korean, they can behave as they wish.

I hate it, when i make new friends in bars or clubs these relationships don’t last or have any particular depth. But it is a logical element of a collective society. Do the borg have some awesome robot hooch?


  • 0mnslnd
  • Expert Waygook

    • 677

    • June 03, 2011, 08:10:01 am
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2012, 12:27:46 am »
All I know is this: It is tough for a Korean living in Korea. Eating and drinking are pretty much the only recreational activities they have (time for) and even then it involves a lot of work, e.g. impressing the boss or begging the wife for the credit card - because the wife is in control of the finances. Correct me if I'm wrong here
Out. Never been happier


  • confusedsafferinkorea
  • Waygook Lord

    • 5183

    • October 08, 2010, 01:02:32 pm
    • Zhubei, Hsinchu Province, Taiwan
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2012, 05:48:32 am »
I posted this previously.

I was having a conversation with a new co-teacher recently and she was absolutely shocked to find out I don't drink. She told me it was good that I was not Korean since I would get nowhere. I told her I thought that was bs, but she assured me if you want to go anywhere in Korea in business or teaching, you have to join the drinking scene.

While I don't think she is 100% on the button with this observation, there is an immense pressure on businessmen and teachers who want to progress to do this drinking thing.

I saw a recent article about the % of binge drinkers here, it was quite scary. I am not for one moment suggesting that there aren't other countries that match Korea in consumption of alcohol, my country being one of them, but it is not so integrated into the 'getting somewhere, you must drink the boss under the table' scene as it is here.

I was also surprised at the time that people start drinking here. In a lot of countries there is a kind of unwritten rule that you don't drink in the morning (of course that isn't always adhered to) but when I go cycling at 5 am I pass many people sitting outside convenience stores eating noodles and downing a couple of bottles of soju.

The other thing I find insane, dangerous and quite frankly irresponsible, is the amount of alcohol people consume while out hiking. Admittedly, many mountain walks here are little more than a stroll in the park compared to other places, but there are some that are pretty dangerous (parts of Gwanaksan) and I was with a group once where we climbed a fairly risky mountain in terms of you could easily lose your step and fall a great distance and the amount of alcohol consumed on the hike was amazing. It ended up my being pretty much the only sober person and so I had to help them all down the dangerous parts.  That is plain stupidity.
There is no known medical cure for stupidity!


  • luckycounty
  • Waygookin

    • 24

    • August 07, 2011, 04:17:41 pm
    • Seosan City S. Korea
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2012, 08:23:40 am »
At first I was surprised also by the amount of alcohol but after giving it some though it was not all too surprising. Many of the old time farmers were young when the Korean War happened. I ask myself what aspirations did they have for their future? How did the war crush this? What did they see during the war that they wish to forget with every ounce of their body? No wonder I likely never see them sober. War is an oppressive force that lives on after it is "won."
If a person does some studying about the mental health system here you would not be far off with watching, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. :o Not that they do torturous electric shock, but to the masses alcoholism does not exist. Suicide is honorable so only those in this field are the ones that know the signs of suicide. An open mental health system allows the strong to gain more than the weak. If a person tries to think of all the stories, experiences, fears and stresses of people it is a wonder the bottle is the countries personal psychiatrist. 


  • confusedsafferinkorea
  • Waygook Lord

    • 5183

    • October 08, 2010, 01:02:32 pm
    • Zhubei, Hsinchu Province, Taiwan
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2012, 08:37:59 am »
At first I was surprised also by the amount of alcohol but after giving it some though it was not all too surprising. Many of the old time farmers were young when the Korean War happened. I ask myself what aspirations did they have for their future? How did the war crush this? What did they see during the war that they wish to forget with every ounce of their body? No wonder I likely never see them sober. War is an oppressive force that lives on after it is "won."
If a person does some studying about the mental health system here you would not be far off with watching, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. :o Not that they do torturous electric shock, but to the masses alcoholism does not exist. Suicide is honorable so only those in this field are the ones that know the signs of suicide. An open mental health system allows the strong to gain more than the weak. If a person tries to think of all the stories, experiences, fears and stresses of people it is a wonder the bottle is the countries personal psychiatrist.

I could go with you about the Korean War and older people but it is not just the older people, young people here are binge drinkers too and one only has to take a walk or ride in Gangnam/Apugjeong/Sinsa area early in the morning to see young people staggering in a hopeless drunken state.

As I said before, I am not saying there are not countries that are equal to or  are even beating Korea in this department, but it is the ease with which alcohol is obtainable and the public drunkeness which shocks me.  I live among all the restaurants and night clubs near Gangnam Station and the amount of young people staggering around there early in the morning and hurling their guts out all over the road, is amazing and to me quite sick.
There is no known medical cure for stupidity!


  • Cereal
  • Hero of Waygookistan

    • 1239

    • March 16, 2011, 12:51:55 pm
    • Earth
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2012, 08:54:27 am »
I am not amazed by the boozing that goes on here. What surprises me is how smashed people get. The Lao drink as much and as frequently as Koreans seem to. They have their own version of soju, called Lao Lao, which is horrifying, and they pound beer into themselves with abandon.

What I have never seen, in 5 years of living there, is an argument, a fight, someone puking, people staggering around...it's very strange. They're bombed for sure, but the nastiness and violence isn't prevalent like it is here.

That is what shocks me.

Good God, if I grew up here with no way out, I'd be a heavy drinker too. This would be a terrible place to grow up in. 
"The urge to destroy is also a creative urge."
Bakunin


  • Koreak
  • Super Waygook

    • 405

    • November 13, 2010, 08:15:43 am
    • South Korea
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2012, 09:09:54 am »
I have asked my wife and my other Korean friends about this.  The response I got was that there is an old Korean idea floating around that you can only see a person's true self through drinking together.  Through drinking they can discover if they want to have a relationship with said person, either financially, romantically or even friendship.

After witnessing on a few accounts myself at the extend some Korean business people will go to rip you off, I can somewhat understand the premise...

However, it is a little mind boggling.

So for a person not to drink, the saying goes further that they are trying to hide something, and should not be trusted.



« Last Edit: September 24, 2012, 12:27:30 pm by Koreak »


  • mrjinglescf
  • Veteran

    • 140

    • March 05, 2012, 07:31:28 am
    • Seoul
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2012, 09:29:13 am »
Your guys thoughts are dead on about the realization of the argument I was trying to make. But I don't think war or farming or hiking explains it- it is Confucianism. I confess I have not been to China, but I can guess it is similar. We did not grow up in a collective society where things you do in public are emblematic of a group. I imagine this is quite distressing.  However, we are all individuals that have independent thoughts and feelings. In Korea, alcohol is the socially condoned way of expressing these thoughts and feelings. During getting s&%$faced time, it is ok to talk to a foreigner or criticize your company. When the other poster said suicide is honorable, that is insane. It is never honorable, it is crumpling under the weight of a collective society. Alcohol is the catharsis of a pretty intense place.


  • Grimne_Lothos
  • Expert Waygook

    • 846

    • December 28, 2011, 12:56:27 pm
    • Buyeo, south korea
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2012, 09:49:35 am »
Quote
I confess I have not been to China, but I can guess it is similar

not even close.


  • luckycounty
  • Waygookin

    • 24

    • August 07, 2011, 04:17:41 pm
    • Seosan City S. Korea
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2012, 10:02:13 am »
As my Chinese eastern medicine doctor told me about their drinking culture. They never pass around their glass, give their glass to make someone else drink, or use age authority as a means of making someone drink a lot more. His experience makes him think this drinking culture is deathly terrible to the point of alcohol poisoning.


Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2012, 10:20:42 am »
Today walking to work, I did have to avoid some street pizza. Which always enlivens my Monday mornings.
 
Drinking here is seen as far as I can tell, as a way to bond. I personally will pick up a bottle of soju, cider and beer and do the rounds at staff dinner meetings. There is a popular custom where you pour a drink for someone in a shot glass and they drink, then they pour for you and you drink , I always turn away when I drink to show I respect and recognize the seniority of the person I'm with. Seems to be a pretty strong way to create connections. I always make sure I never drink too much, get too hammered and usually only do the rounds after a meal and plenty of water.

It also is a way for everyone to be "equalized"  a little. Only with the aid of alcohol, would I end up singing on a nori-bong bus with my principle and both of us be reasonably comfortable with it - we had a shot so its okay for us to let our hair down mentality. I have on occasion helped unfortunate ladies on staff who could not keep up with the others, (read holding hair, cleaning up/ lending spare clothes) generally the following day they are super nice and once I got muffins as a thank you. Although to be fair, in recent months, the school has relaxed on drinking and focused more on the meal for staff events.

My biggest concern is during University festival days, where freshman students have to man mini beer tents and a lot of social pressure is placed on students in general to drink with their class, teams etc. Also university team building days often have a lot of drinking, many younger students often are not so used to large volumes of alcohol, especially the younger female students that are light eaters.

I will say that drinking to excess is not unique to Korea. I have seen it in other countries. I have also seen drunk waegooks as well as drunk Koreans here. For me, discovering that soju is cheaper than milk, coffee or cola was an eyeopener.


  • confusedsafferinkorea
  • Waygook Lord

    • 5183

    • October 08, 2010, 01:02:32 pm
    • Zhubei, Hsinchu Province, Taiwan
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2012, 11:33:14 am »
Today walking to work, I did have to avoid some street pizza. Which always enlivens my Monday mornings.
 
Drinking here is seen as far as I can tell, as a way to bond. I personally will pick up a bottle of soju, cider and beer and do the rounds at staff dinner meetings. There is a popular custom where you pour a drink for someone in a shot glass and they drink, then they pour for you and you drink , I always turn away when I drink to show I respect and recognize the seniority of the person I'm with. Seems to be a pretty strong way to create connections. I always make sure I never drink too much, get too hammered and usually only do the rounds after a meal and plenty of water.

It also is a way for everyone to be "equalized"  a little. Only with the aid of alcohol, would I end up singing on a nori-bong bus with my principle and both of us be reasonably comfortable with it - we had a shot so its okay for us to let our hair down mentality. I have on occasion helped unfortunate ladies on staff who could not keep up with the others, (read holding hair, cleaning up/ lending spare clothes) generally the following day they are super nice and once I got muffins as a thank you. Although to be fair, in recent months, the school has relaxed on drinking and focused more on the meal for staff events.

My biggest concern is during University festival days, where freshman students have to man mini beer tents and a lot of social pressure is placed on students in general to drink with their class, teams etc. Also university team building days often have a lot of drinking, many younger students often are not so used to large volumes of alcohol, especially the younger female students that are light eaters.

I will say that drinking to excess is not unique to Korea. I have seen it in other countries. I have also seen drunk waegooks as well as drunk Koreans here. For me, discovering that soju is cheaper than milk, coffee or cola was an eyeopener.

So you like the drinking culture here?
There is no known medical cure for stupidity!


Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2012, 07:54:40 pm »
It's very important. At my first dinner with the male teachers, I decided to drink with them (unlike my last public school which hampered my favor with the principal).

This year, I got pretty buzzed, but told them I had to leave early to talk to my mom on Skype (I did but it was much later). Before I left, the principal said I was a "good teacher" after never having seen me teach at all. But I have a feeling getting hammered with him and attempting to speak Korean got me some good favor.


  • Jeff619
  • Expert Waygook

    • 816

    • May 26, 2011, 08:12:52 am
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2012, 08:15:16 pm »
I am not amazed by the boozing that goes on here. What surprises me is how smashed people get. The Lao drink as much and as frequently as Koreans seem to. They have their own version of soju, called Lao Lao, which is horrifying, and they pound beer into themselves with abandon.

What I have never seen, in 5 years of living there, is an argument, a fight, someone puking, people staggering around...it's very strange. They're bombed for sure, but the nastiness and violence isn't prevalent like it is here.

That is what shocks me.

Good God, if I grew up here with no way out, I'd be a heavy drinker too. This would be a terrible place to grow up in.
I agree with you on everything you said.  I have never lived anywhere where it's socially acceptable to piss in the lobby of an apartment or on the street.  No problem here, though.  The vomiting is a whole other issue!

I guess in the US we were taught how to drink, not that we are great drinkers.  But back home if we acted the way locals do here, we'd be thrown in the pokey or our friends would take us home before we made too much of a fool of ourselves.  I don't mind the drinking culture here, though.  If that's what they do, so be it.  What bothers me is when they give us foreigners a hard time for doing much less when drunk. 

I personally don't really drink anymore.  Maybe a couple of beers every month and I'll get drunk once or twice a year.


Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2012, 08:29:51 am »


So you like the drinking culture here?
[/quote]


I honestly have to say I have mixed feelings about it.

At work I have realized that this is an opportunity for me to integrate with the rest of the staff. I see it as a tool that can help me make connections and potentially improve my standing in the staff group dynamics as well as allow me to bond. The great thing about drinking is that with limited korean, one can still get into the spirit of things. Often by being a good sport, eating the weird squishy things with gusto and being ready to do the odd lovers entwined arms shot with mock shy modesty ( I generally find that this is best done with the oldest joker on staff as its usually a jolly good laugh all round and innocent at the same time) , being ready to shake a tambourine to a oldies Korean song every now and again means that people get to see a fun yet tame and likeable side of you.

 The trick is always stop before one gets over their limit, as doing something foolish or staggering around is not going to  improve their standing in the staff room the following day. I will admit I have kept cups by my leg, that when nobody is looking, I tip some soju I don't want into. I have also just said I need a water break a few times and they have been cool. I just joke Im not as big and strong as them, they laugh and I get a breather. Also I always make a point of coming into work 5 minutes early the next day and try to look happy and chipper, to show that I wont let a few drinks interfere with my work. I have noticed that some staff members do quietly check to see if you are hungover.

But as you can see, I see the whole night as a series strategic interactions intended to make sure that in the morning the vice principle and some staff greet me with a smile or a wave.

At the same time there are aspects of the drinking culture I don't like. Today walking into work, I stopped by a family mart and watched the guy ahead of me buy two bottles of soju. I'm not used to alcohol being sold legally that early. Also last night I noticed that the bars were open, people were in the near by samgypsal place eating and drinking and I did hear a loud argument around 2 am. I find it odd to see signs of excess drinking on a work night, early in the week but I guess its my western culture coloring my view. I also do not like the lax attitude and penalties to drink driving, that horrifies me. 

On the other hand I have seen many Koreas show a mature and sensible attitude towards alcohol. Most women I know over the age of 35 will drink lightly or not at all in public. Some men on staff do not drink but mostly for religious reasons.


  • Jeff619
  • Expert Waygook

    • 816

    • May 26, 2011, 08:12:52 am
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2012, 08:51:46 am »
I have never lived anywhere where it's socially acceptable to piss in the lobby of an apartment or on the street.  No problem here, though.  The vomiting is a whole other issue!

It's socially unacceptable here as well. Try in the lobby of an apartment building when someone sober is watching and see how acceptable it actually is.
True.  I was exaggerating a bit.  I know it's not acceptable but it's common enough.  I live in a pretty decent apartment in a wealthier part of the city.  We actually have signs in the stairwell reminding people not to pee there.  It boggles my mind that some people need to be told the stairwells and lobby areas are not a toilet.


  • DejaVu
  • Super Waygook

    • 433

    • April 17, 2011, 11:31:29 am
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2012, 09:15:13 am »
It seems like most people only drink here if they're planning on getting drunk.

Therefore, when I tell a Korean that I have a drink everyday, they think I'm a raging alcoholic.

Alcohol doesn't seem to be used for enjoyment here.


Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2012, 09:51:47 am »
I am not amazed by the boozing that goes on here. What surprises me is how smashed people get. The Lao drink as much and as frequently as Koreans seem to. They have their own version of soju, called Lao Lao, which is horrifying, and they pound beer into themselves with abandon.

What I have never seen, in 5 years of living there, is an argument, a fight, someone puking, people staggering around...it's very strange. They're bombed for sure, but the nastiness and violence isn't prevalent like it is here.

That is what shocks me.

Good God, if I grew up here with no way out, I'd be a heavy drinker too. This would be a terrible place to grow up in.
I agree with you on everything you said.  I have never lived anywhere where it's socially acceptable to piss in the lobby of an apartment or on the street.  No problem here, though.  The vomiting is a whole other issue!


Well, I strongly suggest neither of you ever find yourselves out and about after dark in any British or Irish provincial town or city centres!

I've come across a few North Americans who seem to be genuinely shocked by how people drink in Korea and what they do when they're drunk. However, I'm pretty sure that most people looking at it from a British or Irish perspective would think that what goes on here is very, very tame indeed compared to what we're used to seeing.


Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #18 on: September 25, 2012, 10:14:21 am »
I've been called a, "loser," by drunk Koreans before, because I told them that I don't drink. That has never happened before in the States or in The Philippines, countries I both lived in as an adult. People in the U.S. and P.I. have asked me questions about why I don't drink, but they have never pressed me and made a big scene about it like Koreans have done here. The younger Koreans are actually quite good and respectful about the fact that I don't drink. It's the older Koreans who have given me a hard time about it.


  • mrjinglescf
  • Veteran

    • 140

    • March 05, 2012, 07:31:28 am
    • Seoul
    more
Re: Some insight into korean drinking culture
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2012, 12:31:21 pm »
I appreciate all the observations and stories of participation people have been writing in response to my initial post. However, nobody is addressing the point of my post. I have made a controversial sociological deduction about the necessity of excessive drinking in the Korean version of a confucian society. It is a condemning conclusion, as well. I hate living in a place where, in order to meet new koreans or immerse yourself in korean culture, you have to get drunk all the time because, if you didn't, you would be misserable because of the isolation or the elephantine social pressure of the group.