After work, on the weekends, on any available holiday, Koreans love their soju by the bottles. What do you do if you’re not used to it? Here’s a handy little guide to let you know what to expect and how to handle it.
Where you Soju:
Pojangmacha: If you’re brought to these little restaurants on wheels, expect heavy liquor drinking before, during and after dinner.
Restaurants: These usually signal a regular meal, with soju only afterwards.
How you Soju:
One shot: This refers you downing the whole glass of soju or beer in one sitting.
Love shot: This refers to the crossing of hands and drinking.
Actual drinking: When drinking the shot, turn your head away. It’s only polite.
Two hands: Always hold the cup with two hands to show respect.
How to survive Soju:
#1 Pour for others
A common tradiiton is that the youngest of the table will pour for everyone else, but pretend to not know this! This gives you the opportunity to pour for everyone else, conveniently missing out your own glass. Either that, or take only half a shot, pour everyone else a full glass and only top up your own. Everyone 2, you, 1.
#2 Opt for baekju (beer)
If you’re more of a beer sort of person, make it known. Koreans are cool with it, so long as you’re getting as drunk as they are. You may gambei!! (cheers) as many times as they do, but you’re effectively downing less alcohol.
#3 Order tteokbokki
Say you’re brought to a pochangmacha, and you foresee that the drinking is going to be much more intense. To adequately prepare your stomach (and not look like a sissy) order a tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) so that the carbs will help soak up the alcohol.
#4 Order a soup dish
Really can’t deal with the alky? Feign sickness (it’s not uncommon) and order a soupy dish. A few glasses will be forced upon you, but you can probably get away with gambei-ing with a spoonful of soup.
#5 Suggest to go to a noraebang (karaoke) instead
Chances are, you needn’t suggest since the normal procedure is to head to karaoke after drinking to drink some more. But, if you think you can’t drink much more, suggest this early. Koreans love singing as much as they do drinking, so your suggestion will be greeted with furious nodding.
#6 Never show any sign of weakness
What? Can’t drink? Don’t show it. If you let any weakness shine through, you’ll be plied with even more soju. Toss it out of the window or pour it under the table instead. Discreetly, of course.
#7 Dawn 808
Wonder how Koreans drink the whole bar and make it to work in the morning? This is the key. It tastes like cat piss, but it works. Don’t ask what’s in it.
#8 Black rose/knight
At the end of your very last tether (remember, this country was built on iron will), you can call upon a black rose or a black knight, depending on your gender to help you out with the drinks you can’t take on.
Main photo: 1.