expat living, life in korea

Where Business and Alcohol Go Together

When I first came here (Korea) in 2006, my husband told me that refusing an offered drink is impolite. Even alcoholic drink. My saving grace? I was pregnant.

I knew about this excessive Korean drinking habit back in the Philippines. My husband was with the company for five years before he was asked to come over. We had gone out with his Korean colleagues and their wives and he had plenty of stories to tell me about their drinking sprees. So, this drinking-till-you-drop habit isn’t really new but seeing drunk Koreans sprawled on the streets of Seoul when I got here caught me by surprise. Even drunk and, oftentimes, boisterous halmonis (grandmothers) are common sights and sounds in the subways. It never occurred to me that a highly developed nation has people acting as if they are in the countrysides of a backward nation. Back in my country (the Philippines), drunk men sprawled on the street are common sights in the slums or the countrysides. And then, that’s where the difference lies.

Koreans love to drink. Drinking is actually socializing. In fact, drinking is even more important in a workplace. It even defines relationships and hierarchies. Koreans’ penchant for drinking has created its own set of social rules. I was often reminded by my husband, whenever we go out, that I should not forget to pour a drink on his colleagues’ empty glasses. You see, Koreans do not pour a drink on their own glass. And they reciprocate it. It is impolite to refuse a drink. I was just lucky I could say I was pregnant:-) There is even a proper way to pour a drink on another’s glass. And there is a way to pour a drink when you are dealing with a superior. As a superior, rules can be more relaxed. You just don’t accept a glass. You have to accept it properly. Accept it with both hands. Get the picture?

When colleagues ask one out, one can hardly refuse. Especially when it’s the boss who said so. There are no dinner meetings without drinking. One cannot go ahead when the boss is still around.

As a stay-at-home wife to an expat here in Seoul, this practice often irritates me. I often retort back to my husband’s spiels, “Don’t they have a family at home?” My Korean friend who grew up in this culture is more tolerant. But acceptance of this culture doesn’t necessarily make her happier. She just accepts it because she knows her husband does not have much choice. She lives with it. And she understands where my husband is coming from. But if she has her way? She definitely would want this practice stopped.

Social drinking is fine. It’s a way of life anywhere. It’s universal. But this society does not draw the line between business and drinking. Worse, they go over the top. They drink until they p_ke. They drink until they can hardly manage to go home. Drunken men leaning on one another and hardly able to walk straight maybe an embarassment in other parts of the world. Not here. It is as common as flagging down a taxi. Not once, not twice did I hear my friend tells me how her husband wakes up in the morning wondering how he came home.

With my biases, I still have to give credit to these Koreans. How they manage to report to work the next day on time… with hang overs… is beyond me. Remarkable feat, don’t you think? But do their presence in the office translate to efficiency? Till my next post on this… As a peek, take this scenario: a subordinate should not go home when the superior is still in the office. It is not proper. With all the time spent in the office, it should be unimaginable to see them cramming for a deadline. But, hey, cramming is also the way to do it… so, what’s the value of the hours spent in the office?


… all these observations are from an expat’s wife’s perspective…


takes from different sides are welcome…

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3 thoughts on “Where Business and Alcohol Go Together

  1. thanks, modern mommy:-) the hubby has always been a workaholic. it’s the pressure to drink from colleagues that irked me a lot. oh, well….

  2. Wow I would never survive. Not only because I often get a migraine when I drink so I don’t do it very often but also because I cannot stand my husband spending long hours in the office.
    Kuddos to you for putting up with this.

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