If you’re a connoisseur of Korean dramas, you’re most likely familiar with the emblematic red tent where your favourite characters would frequently drink away their sorrows post-breakup or have a rowdy celebration with friends. These red tents, otherwise known as 포장마차 (pojangmacha), are permanent fixtures where Koreans and foreigners alike would go for another round of drinks.
Before you head to any pojangmacha to experience this ‘rite of passage’, the first thing you’ll need to learn is the unspoken drinking rules. Korea’s drinking culture is steeped with etiquette rules, so be sure to keep these in mind before you shout “건배 (geonbae)”.
Seniors Should Pour The First Glass
As with many other Asian countries, Korea upholds a hierarchical culture and this attribute bleeds into their drinking culture. Seniority is respected, and sometimes, revered. Apart from the obvious indicator, that being age, seniority also encompasses corporate hierarchy. This hierarchy dictates who gets to pour the drink first, and often than not, it’s the most senior individual.
Keep in mind that they will only pour the first glass, and the subsequent glasses should be poured by the youngest of the group.
Using Both Hands To Pour And Receive Drinks
When pouring drinks, Koreans would often use one hand to hold the bottle whilst placing the other on their elbow, as a sign of respect and deference. But, of course, holding the bottle with both hands is permissible as well.
To reciprocate this act of respect, you’ll want to receive the drink by holding your cup with both hands. This is especially so if the one pouring is older than you.
Politely Turn Away And Cover When Taking A Drink
Whilst it may seem rather bizarre, it’s customary to avoid facing somebody older straight on whilst drinking. It’s considered polite to turn your head to the side, away from the table, and have one of your hands over your mouth as you drink. If you’re with your mates, however, you can drop such formalities.
Fill Everybody’s Cup Except Your Own
As mentioned prior, Koreans places a special emphasis on hierarchy and the manners that come along with it. In a drinking setting, this means refilling any empty glass you may come across, starting from the most senior individual.
Do take note that this rule only applies to an empty glass. If you spot a half-empty glass, it’s best to leave it alone. A partially filled glass is an indication that the said person wishes to take it slow, and filling up their glass will only come off as offensive.
That said, be sure to only fill up everybody’s cup except your own, as it will be regarded as impolite. Simply wait for others to reciprocate the favour by pouring one out for you.
Drinking is regarded as a social activity, especially so in Korea. Apart from getting a few rounds with your friends and families, companies often hold drinking get-togethers after work to get to know one another better. In the former scenario, these rules can be thrown to the wind as you let loose, drinking the night away. However, if you’re with your colleagues and bosses, it’s paramount that you know these rules by heart, lest the consequences of the night follow you to the following day.
If you’re heading off to Korea for leisure or work, equipping yourself with Korean language skills is a must! Not only will you to better navigate your environments a little better, but it will also grant you access to all the unspoken and unwritten rules of the Korean cultures and traditions. So don’t wait to enrol in our Korean language school to get started!