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You’re the Designated what? (Korean drinking culture)


Look at that – I didn’t even have to add the word “alcohol” and you knew what I meant. So why is it such a taboo in America when compared to some other countries?

Korean Drinking Culture

A relatively small group of emigrants from England bound for America calling themselves the Puritans yearned for religious freedom. They set up in the New England area and proclaimed that their society would become a beacon of light for the world to see. Some time into the 17th century their power declined but their influence has remained in the prevalent thought of Americans ever since. It is because of these persecuted Brits that Americans are so squeamish with alcohol consumption in general. And nudity. Thanks guys.

This isn’t to say that what the Puritans taught was bad in any way – their strong convictions influenced countless American reformations centuries later. But it has left a giggling in every five-year-old when they see a grown man jogging without a shirt in the park ever since.

So, as many well know, Korea is heavily influenced by Confucian thought. Modern day Korean business meetings take place both in the office and in the restaurant with more importance on the latter. Drinking culture permitted the spread of free thoughts and ideas without the usual beating-around-the-bush that is the norm even today in Korea. Drinking with friends, colleagues, and potential clients all play a huge role in how the well-oiled 13th-largest-economy-in-the-world machine works. So what if you don’t drink?

Korea can become a lonely place. Gone is the Land of the Morning Calm. Here is the Land of the Eternal Silence. What is a non-drinker to do?

Suggestions include finding the same type of close-knit group in the office or church that share your same beliefs. More importantly, ensure that your group of friends is the type of friends that can still have a good time despite drinking. Shocking! Koreans of this caliber exist – but you will have to work to find them. I liken it to finding other vegans/vegetarians – they exist but not in large quantities.

I have seen some guides that suggest that one should lie when pressured to drink; suggesting that one should claim that they are pregnant and the like. I would almost offer the opposite. Korea is changing so rapidly that surely exists a group of like-minded individuals who abstain from drinking – and not always for extreme reasons. In America, it’s considered a bit impolite to inquire the reason behind alcohol abstinence, but among Koreans, I might suggest that one be honest and open about their reasons. Koreans don’t drink to get drunk necessarily; rather they drink to feel close and connected to a person. Newsflash – it’s actually possible without the booze.

Having said that, if you want to maintain a pleasant drinking atmosphere and do not have any objections to drinking a small amount, it is considered polite to accept the first drink offered. After that, your explanation of an alcohol-free evening generally goes over smoother.

Koreans can easily be the most loyal group of people you might ever meet. If you don’t buy into the drinking culture, don’t fret. It’s still possible to maintain lifelong friendships without Jinro footing the bill.