Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tips for Foreigners Living in Korea: Rules for Drinking on Business

Here are the basic rules.  There are many subtle rules as well, but this should get someone started.

1.  Soju is the drink of choice for almost everyone regardless of position in the company.  In Korea, during interviews of Korean employees, a Korean may be asked something that translates to "How many bottles of soju can you drink?"  Do not laugh.  It is the truth.

2.  If your senior's soju glass is empy, you must volunteer to refill it.  TWO HANDS must be used to pour a senior's drink.

3.  You need to wait to receive soju from a senior.  You must receive with TWO HANDS on the glass if you are a junior. 

4.  Junior employees customarily turn their heads to the side when drinking soju in front of superiors.  This is a motion of deference, i.e. "I am not supposed to be enjoying a drink in front of my superiors, but I am obliged...."

5. You need to always accept when a Korean offers to pour you a drink.  In the West, you can refuse.  In Korea, you should not.

6.  There can be sharing of cups, although this is less common in Korea than in China.  Remember that in Confucian beliefs, relationships and harmony are more important than actual words.

7.  The senior pays.  If you are junior, you should not fight or argue against a senior when he/she pays.  If you are the teacher, you should not pay, unless you are explicitly trying to teach Koreans about foreign customs.

8.  If there is a "second round,"  you probably have to go.  In Korea, especially in Seoul, there are many places to go after a first round of drinking at a restaurant or bar.  If your seniors go and you are an employee, it will help your career (see point #5) if you go.  While not going will not be explicitly used against you, it will not help.  Even going for a short while, and not engaging in any explicit activity is better than not going at all.

9.  There is zero, and I mean zero,  talking about the prior evening in the office.  ZERO.

This may seem strange, but humans are adaptable.


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