Basic Korean Drinking Etiquette

Today, we’re going to learn how to respect the drinking etiquette in Korea in a formal business setting.

In March, we had a 3-part series of Korean Drinking Games. Here’s part 1, part 2 and part 3 if you’ve missed it!

The girlfriend mentioned that she had to learn all these, including how to welcome and send off the VIP (top boss) to the car. There’s apparently specific positions for the underdog and the mid level managers to stand. But we’d save all these for another day. This time, we’d just look at Korean drinking manners at the dining table.

1) Always use two hands to pour and receive drinks

In olden times Korea, a.k.a Chosun, Koreans used to wear hanboks and this means long sleeves. So traditionally, for Koreans to pour and receive drinks gracefully, they inevitably need to use the non pouring hand to steadily hold up the sleeves to avoid splashing onto the wine glass. The remnants of this tradition can still be seen in today’s Korean drinking etiquette: you’d see the one pouring the drink holding the bottle in one hand and the other hand would either also touch the bottle or touch the pouring hand’s wrist or inner elbow.

image credit:

image credit:

2) Never pour your own drink (nor allow anyone to do so)

In Korea, it’s considered bad luck to pour your own drink. I’m not too sure why, the girlfriend said a Korean friend told her that it’s because Koreans believe the person pouring their own drink would be cursed to be single for x time. So, when you do see a business partner or a Korean coworker pouring their own drink, touch the drinking glass or the bottle to “disarm” this bad luck. Lol Korean superstitions are so cute. ^^

3) Refill someone’s empty glass as soon as possible

Start with the elders / superiors / business partners first, then to your peers. (Don’t you wish you’re this grandpa here? Having Sunny from SNSD pour your drink for you lol)

If the person is a light drinker, and has expressed that he or she can not drink any more, then just pour the drink till the glass is half full. This is called “sense” in Korea, which is in line with the Korean concept called “nunchi”, 눈치. Recall our nunchi game? ^^

4) Face away from superiors whilst drinking

The girlfriend calls this “face the plants” drinking manners. Technically instead of facing each other while chugging down the drink, if one is lower on the food chain, then one has to turn to face either behind or the plants (if you’re sitting at the corner, there’s always a plant somewhere around in the dining place). Hmmm we suspect this is also another traditional feature from the Chosun dynasty. Whatever the case it, it seems that this is also followed in the Hoobae to Sunbae 후배 +선배 drinking sessions.