Soju is the alcoholic beverage of choice by many Koreans (and foreigners). It's made of rice and other ingredients and the taste is similar to vodka. It's extremely affordable, thus very popular, with over 3 million bottles consumed in 2004. There are certain customs when it comes to drinking soju. I am not a big fan of soju (or any other alcohol for that matter--blame it on the Asian blush) but when drinking it, there are certain customs that should be followed. It's like dining etiquette for drinking copious amounts of cheap alcohol!
Want to learn some soju customs before coming to Korea to travel or teach English? According to Wikipedia...
As I mentioned before, soju is inexpensive. It's cheaper than a bottle of Coca Cola and various brands of bottled water. Check out the price for one standard bottle at Homever--that's right, 880w (approximately 90 cents US) or in other words, one heck of a drinking night:
While most Koreans will understand foreigners are unaccustomed to their drinking traditions, they will generally follow these norms themselves and notice favorably when foreigners comply. Most, if not all, of these customs are applicable in Korea regardless of the drink.
- Soju is usually drunk in group gatherings.
- It is against traditional mannerisms in Korea to fill one's own glass. They wait for someone else to fill their empty glass. Others are expected to fill the glass, and are eager to do so as soon as they spot an empty glass.
- A glass should not be filled unless completely empty.
- If one's glass is going to be filled by a superior, one should hold the glass using two hands. Similarly, when pouring soju for an elder, one holds the bottle with two hands.
- If a senior gives an empty soju shotglass (usually his/hers) to you, it means that the person is going to fill the glass and wants you to drink it. You do not have to drink it bottoms up, but at least you have to act like you are drinking it (sipping is okay). And if you drink "the glass" and make it empty, then turn the glass back to the senior who gave it to you. You are not supposed to turn it back soon, but holding it for a long time is considered rude.
- Koreans say "one shot", a challenge to down your glass in one gulp.
- When drinking in front of elders (people older than you), you should always turn away from the elder and then consume. Drinking the shot while facing the elder is disrespectful.
- When drinking among friends of equal social stature, it is often considered overly formal to use two hands when pouring or receiving a drink.
Speaking of getting inebriated, I have never witnessed so many people puking from excessive alcohol consumption in front of my eyes. Don't believe me? Head over to Sinchon or Hongdae on the weekend around midnight and you'll see various people hunched over, throwing up (in Konglish, they called throwing up "o-bite," which is a blend of the words "over bite" which means "over eating"--according to my students) on the sidewalk or down in the subway stations--it's gross! Not that I'm a big fan of analyzing puke, but it always seems to be orange in color--maybe due to the influence of kimchi from dinner? hahaha!
This video was not filmed by me, but by Jessica (also known as HC--hardcore). It's a video of a man on the subway...the best part is how the dude on the right hesitates slightly and pretends everything is fine and dandy, before finally realizing the guy who is falling onto him is drunk out of his mind--that man is SOJU MAN (you can see his lost brother here):
For those in Korea, do you have any soju stories? Have you seen SOJU MAN in your neighborhood?