Korea is a heavy, heavy drinking culture. The Chosun Ilbo says it’s rubbing off on foreigners.
Yes, this is about all I remember after my first experience with Korean Soju.
Photo by Michael Johnstone
When most people think of countries that drink a lot, they think of Russia and former soviet nations. After all, with all those cold winters and economic hardships, you’d drink a lot too right? Or perhaps the wine-loving French with all that incredible cheese and baguette. But in a relatively short time, most foreigners (외국인 waygukin) learn very quickly that Korea is giving other nations a run for their money. In fact Jinro soju is actually the most sold alcoholic beverage in the world. In 2011, twice as much Jinro soju was sold than Smirnoff vodka, which is impressive, given that most people in the world have no idea what soju even is.
The Chosun Ilbo recently reported the following:
Most expats think Koreans drink a lot, and half say they imbibe more than when they first came to the country, a recent straw poll by the Chosun Ilbo suggests.
The poll was conducted in the streets of Seoul on 100 foreigners who have been in Korea for at least three months. The respondents came from 26 countries including Ecuador, France, Mexico, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S.
Some 77 percent of respondents thought that Koreans drink a lot of alcohol, and 48 percent said their alcohol consumption has increased since coming to Korea. Interestingly, 40 percent said their alcohol intake had doubled since they arrived in the country, and six percent said it had quadrupled.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise–in Korea,
soju is cheaper than some brands of water
and can be found for as little as 1,000 won, or about 86 cents USD. To make things even more tempting, drinking in public is completely permissible. On the subway, in a taxi, or walking down the street. The usual drinking laws that discourage westerners from getting smashed in the streets don’t apply in this liquor-liberal nation, and many English teachers, fresh out of university.
It’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning and head to work while noticing people asleep on park benches, or stumbling home from the bars at eight in the morning. Sleeping in public is a social norm, leading to one of Korea’s most popular foreigner websites: Black Out Korea
.Recently as I was explaining drinking culture to a visiting couple from the United States, I mentioned that it’s not uncommon for people to fall asleep at a bar, wake up, and continue drinking. For an example, I only had to glance around briefly, and 10 feet to my right, a pair of 40-something Korean men where passed out happily in their chairs. One woke up about 10 minutes later, promptly lit a cigarette, and stumbled around for a bathroom break and a fresh drink.And while it’s easy for a newcomer to laugh at the locals, remember this–in a few months, that will more than likely be you passed out in a beer-hof booth while your friends drink the night away. And one more thing: when Koreans overindulge their drinking limits, nobody ever gets shot
. Or gets shot
. Or gets shot
You get the idea.