Language Matters March 2009: Korean Drinking Culture

Dear Language Friend,

“One-two-[CLAP]-four-five-six…Oh Shoot!” Now you may wonder, what kind of conversation is this? This, ladies and gentlemen, is actually a popular drinking game called “sam yuk koo” (three-six-nine) played by Koreans at gatherings and parties. So why is this significant? Well, games like these are often played by Koreans since alcohol drinking is an important part of their culture, and are used to liven-up the atmosphere and bond relationships. In this issue of our newsletter, we will tap into the Korean culture by understanding their drinking customs, and how the culture evolved.

The LingoStar Team. Thanks for reading.

Korean Drinking Culture

Virtually everyone, but in general, men drink without limit. Koreans are trained to drink right from high school graduation, and some are trained even earlier. In fact, there are actually drinking courses offered by universities to help students understand their drinking culture. When freshmen enter university, a welcome party is held, and respectable professors and seniors offer drinks to these newcomers. And to seem polite, drinks offered would almost always be accepted by the gentlemen to seem courteous but ladies can decline without seeming disrespectful.

What Do Koreans Do?

While drinking with school mates, friends and colleagues, Koreans would often play drinking games to liven up the atmosphere. One of the popular games “sam yuk koo”, as described in our introduction, is often played. In this game, everyone takes turns shouting out a number; when you come across a multiple of three, you must clap your hands instead of saying the number. If, by accident, a number in the multiple of three was called out, the person would have to down a glass of drink as punishment. Then the game would start over again and continue until one drinker passes out from the amount of alcohol. Besides playing the game, the drinking etiquette is also quite important. When drinks are offered to others, the free arm must hold up the arm pouring the alcohol. Also, the receiver must hold up the cup to express their gratitude of the offer. If we are drinking with Koreans, it is a good idea to wait for someone to offer us more alcohol instead of pouring ourselves, and of course, we should always take initiative in offering more alcohol to others. Just because everyone is enjoying the alcohol, doesn’t mean the etiquette can be waived aside.

Why Drink?

As stated above, Koreans drink to bind relationships. For example, when new employees arrive at a company, other co-workers may invite the newcomers to the bar for a drink. This would make the newbies feel welcomed and allow them to blend in to the working environment faster. Or maybe co-workers just going out to relax after a long tiring day at work; friends getting together and enjoying each other’s presence; etc. There are numerous reasons why Koreans drink, but one thing is for sure – this frequent drinking habit is deeply rooted in the Korean society.

Understand More to Blend in…

Besides understanding the drinking culture, have you ever considered learning more about the Korean society? Here at LingoStar, we offer Korean lessons designed to meet your purposes. Whether it’s for a business trip, a casual travel to Korea, or for the sake of making more Korean friends, we’re here to help. Contact us with your requirements, and we’ll provide Korean courses specially designed for you. So what are you waiting for?