Korean Drinking Etiquette

The Informant is 21 years old, a junior at USC studying Theatre and Narrative Studies, and he’s from San Jose, California.

Him: Usually, within the first few days of a new job, the new employees go out drinking with bosses, who are considered elders. When you drink with an elder in Korea, whether he or she is an employer or simply an older person, you always turn your body away whenever you consume the drink. I saw my cousin not only turn away but also even cover the shot glass with his hand to conceal the fluid entering his mouth. It’s weird to me because it seems that in the culture people drink to bond, and yet there’s this formality that doesn’t seem like it belongs in such an ostensibly casual setting. anyway, learned about this from my dad when he first gave me a sip of his wine when I was maybe a freshman in high school. But sine then, he’s told me that I don’t actually have to turn away whenever I drink with him. it was more just something to keep in mind if I ever find myself having drinks with other Korean adults. And by the way, drinking is a HUGE pastime in the culture, especially among males. I think it has to do with the draft that requires all males past the age of 18 to serve at least 2 years in the military. Somewhere in those two years, the guys basically become alcoholics. So, as they get older, drinking becomes reminiscent of the good ol’ days when you just hung out with your buddies drinking your brains out. It was my dad’s dream come true when I turned 21 and could legally drink with him wherever he went. He’s missed having a drinking buddy. My mom thinks he’s an idiot for it…That was fun! I’m glad I got to share that.


I think it’s clear that when the elders invite the new, younger employees out to drink, it is just another test of whether or not the employee is worthy of working at the company. It’s a final test to see how polite they will be to their bosses, despite the pressures of being in a casual atmosphere. Even though they’ve already been hired, they have to prove their worth in that moment by showing manners to their superiors. I’m left wondering how many Korean homes mimic the Informant’s household where the elders don’t mind if the younger members don’t turn their backs to drink. I’d like to be able to compare a Korean household to a Korean-American household and observe the differences in practices of etiquette.

I also think it’s worth some time to explore why the young men become so involved with alcohol in the military. Is it expected as a part of being a member of the military? Or is it the pressures of training and (perhaps) combat that drive all of the young men to drink? Apparently, they walk away with good memories from their time with alcohol in the military. But, I think it is implied there that once they return to civilian life, they are forced to fit within society’s standards of drinking patterns, meaning that the 2 years they are in the military are their “party” years in some way. This shows why the Informant’s father may have been so excited for his son to be old enough to legally drink.