Business traveler's guide to surviving a Korean drinking session

Discussion in 'Asia' started by sobore, May 25, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. sobore
    Original Member

    sobore Gold Member

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    http://www.cnngo.com/seoul/drink/business-travelers-guide-drinking-korea-213012

    In Korea, it's said that the success of your business roughly correlates to how well you can drink ... and how respectful you are to your companions while downing bomb shots by the bucketful.
    Most companies in Korea have hoesik (literally, dinner with coworkers; figuratively, official eating/drinking fests involving multiple rounds at multiple venues) at least once a month and sometimes every week.
    For the foreign business traveler, using your foreignness as an excuse to bow out will get you only so far.

    Rules of the game

    "Drinking etiquette is the first thing you teach foreign guests," says Bryan Do, a Korean-American director at the Korean branch of a U.S. company.
    "It was shocking when I first arrived in Korea. My boss was a graduate of Korea University [renowned known for its hardy drinking culture] and at my first hoesik, we started out with everyone filling a beer glass with soju, and downing it on the spot. That was just the beginning."

    Opening up

    For Koreans, drinking is considered a way to get to know what someone is really like.
    "I didn't really like it in the beginning," says Charles Lee, a Korean-Canadian who came to Korea a year ago to work for a Korean company. "I was like, 'Why are you making me drink something when I don't want to?' But once I understood the meaning behind it, I appreciated it more."
    "There are just some things you can't say at work or talk about over lunch -- people who talk about work at lunch are losers -- but when someone offers you a glass of soju it's an invitation which means that they want to listen to you," says Lee. "I thought Koreans were impersonal before I drank with them, so the whole context is important."

    Read More: http://www.cnngo.com/seoul/drink/business-travelers-guide-drinking-korea-213012
     
  2. uggboy
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    uggboy Gold Member

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  3. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    While working in Seoul I have had quite a few hoesik. With some planning I managed to drink little and seem to drink a lot, mostly by having a handy way to hide a small pitcher in which I poured the drink. It is not too easy to do that, but some of the most popular drinking venues do help. This must be done with some subtlety at the beginning, but as the evening advances it ceases to be an issue.

    Similar practice has been traditional in Japan for a very long time. I learned the pitcher tactic there from a Japanese friend in Hokkaido.

    Because in both countries the traditional habit is to defer politely in public, some method of open communication is essential; one that gives a ready excuse "I was drunk" resolves the issue of culpability if the expresses views are found to be objectionable. Because in both countries my role was to help change the status quo quickly, I realy needed these sessions. Because of that important social role it is essential to be seen to be drinking, but not important to actually drink.

    Think of it as an organized way to help people have open expression without causing offense.

    Despite working in both countries since the mid-1960's I do not claim to understand either of them. Thus, I reserve the right to be absolutely wrong.
     
  4. aptraveler

    aptraveler Gold Member

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    I think is always good to know the subtle cultural nuances when either traveling or even working abroad. :cool: posting sobore!

    Sent from my iPhone using milepoint
     
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  5. euromannn
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    euromannn Gold Member

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    It's ok to occasionally over indulge but being influenced by another culture is not always the best practice. Drink to enjoy not appease others and you will be happier. Seems when drunk you might be more likely to make sarcastic comments or say inappropriate things which would be misinterpreted by a foreign culture.

    Pitcher dumping may help some....but I just drink what I like and makes me feel comfortable.
     
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  6. taiwaned
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    taiwaned Silver Member

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    Must be an Asian thing cause they do it over here in China too.

    No work gets officially done until one eats together, drinks together and gets a foot massage. It is a whole new cultural thing for me.

    Now I look forward to the foot massage. (yes just a foot massage)
     
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  7. SOLTATIO

    SOLTATIO Silver Member

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    Often the problem is that you cannot just order what you like to drink. Many business meals / drinks nights out are pre-arranged and set up so that by the time you arrive at the restaurant, the food and SOJU (vodka type liquor famous in Korea) is waiting for you. It is normally the host of the evening that decides what is eaten and what gets drunk. And it is seen as highly offensive when you "insult" his tastes by not partaking in the festivities in some way. Normally, the person who organizes the outing will also pay for the outing so if you order separate, it will inadvertently end up on his tab. And no, he won't accept the money for your drinks as "going dutch" is often frowned upon except amongst the younger crowd.
     
  8. euromannn
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    euromannn Gold Member

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    Then maybe just to make money in guess you should not accept the dinner invitation if this bothers you so much,
     
  9. cennas
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    cennas Gold Member

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    Had my first (and so far) only hoesik back in December. My boss decided to entertain visiting Korean colleagues at a Korean restaurant and we let them ordered the food and drinks. Managed to get through it just fine, I thought the Soju had no taste and easier to drink than Vodka.
     

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