Korean Language Blog

Soju (소주) Posted by on Oct 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

Now, enough with the serious posts and on with the fun posts!  Today I’m going to talk about everybody’s favorite subject: alcohol.  (Well, maybe not everybody’s favorite!)  Since this is a Korean blog, let me introduce an alcoholic beverage native to Korea.  It is called soju (소주).  Soju (소주) is mainly made from rice, but other starches such as potatoes and barley are sometimes used as well.  Soju (소주) is usually clear in color, but some are fruit flavored and have artifical dyes that make them look red or green.  The South Korean government prohibits the alcohol content of soju (소주) to be above 35%.  As a result, many sojus (소주) contain an average of about 20% of alcohol content.

Moreover, Korea is what I call a drinking culture.  Now, I’m not saying that Korea is a nation of alcoholics!  What makes an alcoholic?  Well, I’m not sure, but Koreans don’t really have the stigma attached to alcohol like Americans do.  What I mean is that soju (소주) is often a medium for people to bond in situations they would not normally have the opportunity to do at work.  Employers and employees in Korea sometimes work overtime shifts without extra pay.  Naturally stress and fatigue builds up, creating a need for people to let their hair down.  Sometimes an employer may offer to treat his employees after a long day of work.  Usually, employees accept, because accepting an offer to drink is seen as accepting someone’s trust and friendship.

The concept of going drinking with your employer may seem like an odd concept to Americans.  In American society, there are certain boundaries carved out between one’s personal life and work life.  In Korean society, these boundaries are less distinct.  If you’re someone who likes to drink, you’ll do fine in Korea.  If you’re not a particularly tolerant drinker like me and you refuse to drink often, you may offend some of your co-workers.  Just to be polite, I would suggest that you take at least a sip and perhaps apologize with a jesonghapnida (죄송합니다) which means I’m sorry in Korean.  You may also want to add, surul chal mot heyo (수를 잘 멋 해요) which literally means “I don’t really do alcohol well” with the intended meaning being that you aren’t an avid drinker.

If you do decide to go out drinking with your boss, here are some alcohol etiquette rules you should follow.  When you pour a drink for your boss, make sure both hands touch the bottle.  If both hands don’t touch the bottle, at least place your left hand on your right arm with your right hand pouring the drink.  Using both hands is a sign of respect so remember to do that.  Also, remember that it’s a bit direct and frank to drink with your face toward your boss.  When you bring the glass to your lips, make sure you turn your head away from your boss at least 45 degrees away from your boss.  Think of this way: since Koreans have a tendency to sit close together, drinking with the your face toward the other person would allow the person to see and hear you gulp down your drink, and that is just not an attractive sight!

So, have fun drinking and don’t forget to say konbe (건배) which means cheers!

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  1. vinny:

    LOL then Korea is the place for me, nothing better than having a drink with your boss haha. Thanks for the post, is very useful!

  2. Steve Pringle:

    That explains why in “Dong Yi” everyone turns when drinking with the King. Thanks.