Koreans Getting Crunk- The culture of drinking

by Sharon -- July 19, 2010

Koreans love them some alcohol.  They love them some alcohol in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, and then again in the morning.  And then when they’re at work, they love them some alcohol at lunch with their coworkers and bosses.  It never seems to end.

Before coming here, Jason and I were warned by various travel websites that it is common to see people passed out along the streets and subway stations, possibly in a pool of their own vomit or clutching a soju bottle (we have personally seen both).  When I saw my first display of “Public Korean Trainwreck-edness” (aka, PKT, my new coined term for this post), it was at a major subway station.  I was in such a state of awe that I literally stood and watched the show unfold.  I might as well have had a bucket of popcorn and some 3-D glasses.  The two absolutely hammered businessmen, in suits, mind you, were clutching at one another and shouting something in Korean that I can only assume were passionate exclamations of their love for one another.  Oh, did I mention that there was a pool of vomit on the subway steps, and that this was taking place at the ripe hour of 3pm on a Tuesday?!?

We have continued to witness multiple instances of PKT around Korea since this first showing.  Most of them were young Korean girls stumbling around the city with the help of one or two friends to hold themselves upright.  We saw this occur at all times of the day, from 4pm-4am.  Some were puking, some were attempting (very comically) to stammer into a bus while the bus driver rolled his eyes. Some were passed out on a street bench while puking. Some were able to walk, but then tripped in their ridiculously high stiletto heels (my personal favorite), etc.

If there was one general characteristic that I could say was the most interesting about the Korean culture, it would be the intense obsession with drinking.  Drinking is accepted as a social activity not only on the weekends at bars and clubs, but also during the week in the light of day with your fellow coworkers and superiors.  It is actually considered rude if you don’t accept a drink that your host or boss has poured for you, even if you are already seeing double.  Because of this, people feel pressured to drink way past their limit, leading them to PKT in full effect.

However, they’re genuinely obsessed with Soju, the Korean rice wine.  They even order it with breakfast at 6am.  No joke- we have witnessed it with our own eyes.  So, I figure either they either genuinely like the taste, or they feel like they’re being watched by their boss at all hours of the day.

Korea is also one of the only cultures that I can think of that has its own strict drinking procedures.  For instance, when you receive alcohol at the table, usually the youngest person will pour everyone’s drink using two hands (as a sign of respect) and will pour the oldest person’s cup first.  Also, in Korea you are not supposed to pour your own drink, so once the pourer has filled everyone’s cups, someone else will pour theirs.  Then, after a group cheers, it is customary to turn your head while you take the shot.  Because of these customs, it is safe to assert that drinking is solidly infused into the Korean culture.

Despite all of this talk about Koreans and their booze, don’t be fooled and assume that Koreans can handle as much alcohol as the Irish.  In fact, Koreans, while they drink often and may puke a lot from it, are still generally lightweights.  They drink during almost every meal (trust me, they really do- Jason and I are often the only ones in a restaurant who aren’t drinking) because the food helps the alcohol digest without the unwanted effects of the “Asian Flush”.

We have also been told that college is easier than high school in Korea- they no longer have any entrance exams looming over their heads like a giant rain cloud.  This is when they discover the wonderful world of alcohol, and that’s when I assume things get hyphy.  People (especially women) don’t know their limit so they overdo it… Every time.

I stumbled upon a great article that describes the Korean drinking culture and also explains that Koreans by no means are the top drinkers in the world.  If you’re interested in reading more about how my heritage has me pinned down as an alcoholic, take a gander.

Random Thought of the Day: Shopping for clothes in Korea is a real humbling experience.  Most of the time they only have one size… ONE SIZE!  This goes for t-shirts, tank tops, dresses, shorts, sweat pants, you name it.  The only thing I have noticed that always has different sizes are jeans and shoes.  Talk about homogeneity.  Girls with junk in the trunk, good luck.

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6 Responses to “Koreans Getting Crunk- The culture of drinking”

  1. Interesting, I didn’t know that the Koreans liked getting crunked. Seems like such a conservative culture,

    The last time I drank at breakfast, people called me an alcoholic.

  2. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA omg… I was laughing SO hard on your Random thought. That stinks!!! Even more so, I can relate to these light wieght asians… and I am halfy, and halfy irish. haha I would think the country would smell like vomit. How is it cleaned up?? Well that explains why asian girls always travel in herds :D

  3. oh and btw, I was also pinned with you at thanksgiving as the “professional drinkers” :)

  4. Nick: I was surprised too! You would never think that Koreans are such drinkers if you were from another country, but if you were born here it’s just normal!

    Holly: If I remember correctly, the second we were pinned as the Family Alcoholics at Thanksgiving, I proceeded to spill my entire beer all over myself! Good times…

  5. Although I live in Taiwan, which is not far from Korea, I didn’t know they are such alcoholics! And it seems so embarrassing that those drunk people messing up all around since now Korea has been labeled as a pretty modern, progressive country in Asia.
    Is that just in some regions or a common scene? I just couldn’t believe how unreal is that!
    Last, just learned about your story from a English magazine. I think it takes some courage to do these adventures! Good Luck.

  6. I haven’t spent enough time in other smaller cities to notice this happening everywhere, unfortunately. But I can say that it’s a pretty common scene in Seoul and Busan (although not as much in Busan).

    Thanks for the comment, and glad you found us!

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