How to Get Drunk in Korea

When you're out to drink with friends, do you turn your face away from elders and cover your mouth with your hand? Then you're rude in Korea.

Before K-pop sensations BTS, Blackpink, or PSY and his weird pony-dancing swept the globe, Korea's most notable contributions to global culture were its booze. The small country has one of the world's most lively drinking cultures, mostly featuring its rice liquors of soju and makgeolli. Korean society's traditional values of filial piety and respect for elders is deeply ingrained in drinking etiquette—even when you're getting wasted, you're expected to show respect for your companions based on age, gender, and social status.

As an American traveling in Seoul for the first time, I was of course out of my element. My hosts were always gracious enough to explain the traditions to me when I asked about the rules of behaviors everyone seemed to be following. As a Korean-American with little to no experience with Korean Culture, I was given this brief rundown of lessons learned in the last 1,000 years or of getting drunk in Korea.

1. Never Fill Your Own Glass

popdust drinking culture in korea Meg Hanson

The main sign of respect when imbibing in Korea is filling your friends' glasses for them; so filling your own glass could kill the mood. In fact, it's traditionally considered to be bad luck, although plenty of people forgo this rule when the entire group is treated to a new round. Even if you leave your glass alone, your greatest problem will probably be to prevent your companions from constantly giving you refills. But if you leave your glass half full, no one will add more, as it's considered good luck to finish your entire glass.

As for you what you're drinking, sure, beer and whiskey are common. But popular traditional Korean alcohols include soju, a clear rice liquor that can range from 17% to 53% alcohol (imagine vodka, but impossibly smooth), and makgeolli, a milky rice wine that's low proof and served in traditional wooden bowls.

2. Drink More

journiest soju korea Married with Maps

Seriously, drink a lot. Think of it this way: accepting drinks is the love language of getting drunk with friends, so the more you drink, the friendlier you are! If that sounds similar to the unsafe practice of binge-drinking, well, kind of—except it's based on camaraderie and respect. A traditional saying in Korean is "il bul, sam so, o ui, chil gwa," roughly meaning "don't stop with one glass; three glasses are not enough; five glasses is a proper amount and seven glasses is too much."

However, these days people are more understanding if you don't want to drink alcohol. While it's still generally expected that you accept the first round served to the group, if you communicate right away that you don't drink, no offense will be taken.

3. Respect Your Elders

If an elder offers you alcohol, you're particularly obligated to accept it. Proper etiquette is to hold the glass with both hands as they're pouring as a sign of courtesy. Strictly traditional behavior is to stand, bow, and refrain from drinking until the elder does. When you do drink, the ultimate sign of respect is to turn your face away from elders and cover your mouth with your hand when you drink.

When it comes to your turn to pour, you're always expected to serve the oldest person first. Proper pouring etiquette is to hold the bottle with your right hand and use your left hand to support your arm, ostensibly to keep your sleeve from dipping into the drink or food (fun fact: traditional Korea clothing, hanboks, included long, billowy sleeves).

4. Keep Track of Your Friends' Drinks

journiest drinking in korea Meg Hanson

When someone's glass is empty, you should offer to refill it. The driving spirit of Korea's drinking culture is to socialize, from friends to coworkers, or even bosses. In fact, the term hoesik (회식) is used to specifically describe having drinks with co-workers after work hours; it sounds like American happy hour, but it carries much more social weight and respect than in the States. For instance, if you refuse an offer of hoesik from your boss, it's considered extremely rude—and, yes, could cost you advancement at work!

5. Eat

journiest food korean Meg Hanson

It's courteous (and expected) to serve food with alcohol. Usual side dishes might include dried fish and fruit, as well as chasers of club soda, fruit juice, or even beer to go along with whiskey (try a Soju Bomb; it's a cousin of the Sake Bomb but stronger).

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Finally, we are done with 2020! Between all the highs and lows, it felt like 5 years packed into one, so I'm excited to start fresh in 2021. I'm taking my New Year's resolutions to the next level: cook more, read more, and get back to things I truly love like arts & crafts and morning runs (okay, most likely walks).

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Given the nature of the pandemic, it can be tough to find the best ways to spend the usual festivities that New Year's Eve brings.

Luckily, if you're comfortable enough to step outside for the occasion, there are great places still open and worth visiting. Although you should always keep COVID-19 safety precautions in mind, here are three of the most stunning places to spend Near Year's Eve in the U.S.

New York City (New York)

No guide to stunning places to spend New Year's Eve in the U.S. would be complete without the presence of New York City, New York. The Times Square ball drop is a must-see annual event, though this year it will be a bit different due to the pandemic. Thankfully, the city will still be throwing an event for all to enjoy that will keep social distancing in mind and focus on bringing people together virtually.

While there might be live events for some to enjoy, none have been officially announced just yet. Even if you're enjoying the festivities virtually, there are few better places to spend this special occasion than at the tip of the NYC skyline.

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Lake Travis (Texas)

Lake Travis is a brilliant body of water in Texas that provides a versatile collection of ways to enjoy its beauty. If you'd prefer to keep your party secluded due to the pandemic, you can enjoy the evening on a boat in the waters of this lake, which is home to the famous "Devil's Cove" party destination.

If you're comfortable spending the evening in a venue that practices COVID-19 safety precautions, consider relaxing on one of the three decks on display at The Oasis. Even if you don't stick around to ring in the New Year, viewing the sunset from The Oasis is an incredible experience in itself.

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Cape Cod (Massachusetts)

If you're looking for a quainter way to ring in the new year, consider visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Aside from the cool weather and stunning scenery, when spending New Year's Eve in Cape Cod you can visit places such as the Belfry Inn & Bistro. This lovely location has a focus on good dining, stylish and comfortable living, and COVID-19 safety, all of which they put on display via their website.

If you'd prefer not to spend too much time in a restaurant or bar, you can indulge in the incredible appearance of areas like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. Simply wandering around the area and taking in the scenery before enjoying an intimate evening inside makes for an unforgettable adventure.

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Due to the ever-changing nature of certain venues during the pandemic, be sure to regularly check-up on any venues you wish to visit. That way, you can remain in the loop on their availability, activities, and safety precautions upon arrival.