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Drink up! (The drinking culture in Asia)

Beer, vodka, soju, sake, whiskey. Whichever your preference, alcohol is a great way to unite people. Drinking has become so widespread that there are customs and cultures based on it.

Drinking cultures vary in each country. If you’re planning to drink in Korea, China, or Japan, here are some tips to get you started on your inebriation.

China

The preferred choice of alcohol there is baijiu. Baijiu is high proof, and because drinking in China has been categorized as masculine, most men tend to drink it. Though there are times when they tend to drink beer or wine, nothing shows your masculinity like baijiu. However, it’s not always about finishing your shot of baijiu before anyone else. There’s an etiquette to drinking when you find yourself sharing drinks with business associates, be mindful of how you behave.

chinese

When someone toasts, it is expected of you to finish your cup, or ganbei. When people do toast, be sure to clink your glass against everyone’s. If the person you’re toasting against is your superior, be sure to bring your glass lower than theirs when you clink glasses. But beware, if you clink glasses, it means you want to go bottoms up! If you’re not sure how to work yourself into the Chinese drinking culture, just be sure to use both hands when offering, receiving, or drinking your beverage.

Japan

As most people may have heard, sake is popular in Japan. However, the most popular drink is actually beer. With breweries like Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, you’ll see restaurants, bars, and izakayas (Japanese pub) stocked and ready to serve you beer. But if you’re looking for something more traditional, most izakayas are ready to present you with sake, which can be drunk either cold or hot. It may not sound appealing, but certain sakes taste much better when served hot.

japanese-drink

If you find yourself sharing drinks with Japanese businessmen, make sure you NEVER pour your own glass. Something to keep in mind is you should always wait for other people to offer you a fill. It is custom in Japan to never leave a glass or cup empty, so if you happen to see someone in need of a refill, offer to pour. Some may refuse to show modesty, but if pressure is applied, most will accept your offer. In turn, they will insist on refilling your glass as well, so be sure to leave your glass full if you don’t plan to drink anymore.

Korea

The most sought out alcoholic beverage in Korea is soju. This traditional Korean drink has sold twice more than any other spirit or liquor worldwide. In Korea, the drink is found almost anywhere – from your local convenience stores to top-notch Korean restaurants. One of the best things about soju is that it’s relatively cheap and it’ll get you buzzed (or heavily intoxicated, depending on your consumption). What’s even more popular than soju is somaek (소맥; soju mixed with beer). The golden ratio (황금 비율) of soju to beer is 3:7. Some will choose to add more or less soju, but you can’t go wrong with 3:7.

soju

Wherever you go to drink, be sure to always toast the first glass or shot and finish it, too. Depending on whom you’re dinking with, you may have to finish your glass every time your counterpart does. In corporate Korea, your superiors will want to keep pouring you drinks and it is considered disrespectful if you don’t empty your glass. Also, be sure to use both hands when either pouring or receiving drinks (especially if the counterpart is your superior).

Despite where you are, if you’re out drinking, always be sure to keep the customs of the host country. Being able to blend in with that country’s drinking culture will prove more fun and interactive. Just be sure to drink responsibly. Now, drink up!

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

There are 4 comments

  • […] What to say: ビ一ルを一本下さい (Bee-ru ip-pon ku-da-sai). What you’ll get: A bottled Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo, with a cup that your drinking partners will likely fill for you. […]

  • I can attribute about half of my life’s problems to soju!

  • Mathew Nolan says:

    In Mongolia the drink of choice is vodka or if you’re in the countryside you will run into something called “airag” which is fermented mare’s milk. Its customary to dip your ring finger into your vodka and flick the drops skyward before you drink.

    • o0aquamentus0o says:

      What’s the significance of that ritual? Is it something that everyone does, or just young men of a certain class?

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