Enjoy the food. Savor the conversation.

Drinking In South Korea

Drinking In South Korea

During my last business trip to S. Korea, it hit me that going out for dinner and drinking with the Korean Salaryman (aka office worker) is such a cultural norm and basic requirement of any business traveler that I thought it would make a great topic of discussion here. So I'll share with you what I've come to experience one too many times on my many trips abroad to South Korea.

First off, not going out to dinner with your local hosts is not going to fly. They will insist on it. And the reality is, they're probably your ride anyway so you really don't have much of a choice. Plus, taking you out to dinner and drinks is also an excuse for them to get out too. Now it's really not as bad as you may think because at it's core the culture of business drinking is really a social function which we're all familiar with. It's the classic happy hour taken to another level. They truly want to bond with you, outside of the restrictive norms of the office. So just go with it and enjoy the new scene.

The ubiquitous drink which every salaryman will push on you is the classic bomb drink of beer and soju. If you've never had soju, fear not. It actually goes well with beer. By itself, soju may be compared with Japanese sake, but it's a little smoother. Which is surprising because it generally has a higher alcohol content, around 20%-30%. When combined in beer you've got yourself Somek or a Korean Boilermaker. So popular is this mix that special glasses are available just so you get the right ratio. 

What's that ratio? I have no idea, just let your hosts do it for you as they'll gladly oblige. They've gotten really good at it anyway because you really can't have a dinner without making the drink 10-15 times since the glasses are so damn small. Plus, after drinking 5-6 drinks it really all tastes the same. But that's OK.

At this point, you and the salaryman will have developed a deep bond over your endless complaints about your boss. The drinking is now secondary to the comradery. So enjoy the rest of the conversation and know that you'll probably be doing it all over again in 24 hours.