Businessmen in disheveled shirts with neckties tied around their heads swaying back and forth drunk is a common sight to see in South Korea during any night of the week. Drinking 13.7 spirit shots per week on average, South Korea’s hard liquor consumption rate is well above any other country in the world; Russia coming in a far second with 6.3 shots, according to data from Euromonitor International. Drinking is not merely used for social gatherings; instead, it plays a crucial role in strengthening bonds between businesses and relieving stress created within them. With a well-developed alcohol culture and firmly established alcohol etiquettes, it is easy to say that drinking is a significant part of South Korean culture.
|[A typical weekend night in Gangnam. Multiple restaurants are filled with people sharing drinks with various types of food. Photo Courtesy: Brian (Hyunje) Park]|
South Korea has a long-continued tradition of drinking on national holidays and special occasions such as Seol-Nal (Korean New Year), but modern-day drinking culture takes a different approach, with alcohol being consumed on a near-daily basis. A common form of drinking within the country is Hoe-Sig, where co-workers drink together while eating together. Although the concept seems pleasant, reality is often disappointing, (add comma) as most companies require their employees to attend these frequent episodes of binge drinking with their supervisors under constant pressure.
|[Empty beer and soju bottles are stacked outside of restaurants, indicating heavy consumption of alcohol on weekend nights. Photo Courtesy: Brian (Hyunje) Park]|
Although strict drinking etiquettes and traditions based on social hierarchies is a persisting issue, how Korea’s drinking culture affects its adolescents is another concern on an entirely different level. According to a study completed by HIRA (Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service) in 2017, South Korean teenagers first approach alcohol at an average age of 13. Of these teens, 35.5% of them consumed alcohol for the first time due to recommendations from parents or relatives, according to Statistics Korea. The tradition of partaking in sacrificial drinking during national holidays and Jessa (A ceremony honoring those who are deceased) is how adolescents first learn the etiquettes of drinking.
However, data suggests that this very act can instill a more lenient view on drinking to these adolescents, leading to drinking issues. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, teenagers who have been encouraged to drink from their parents or relatives are 2.3 times more likely to drink within a month than those who did not. Although parents are encouraged to teach their children how to drink healthy, teaching drinking etiquettes on its own may cause undesired effects, ironically increasing drinking rates amongst teenagers.
The fact that alcohol is cheap and readily available may also contribute to teen drinking rates. Young students without a steady income can still afford a constant supply of alcoholic beverages as soju, the national favorite drink traditionally made from rice, costs only 1,800 won, which is approximately $1.50. Accessing these affordable drinks also does not prove to be an issue, as convenience stores housing various types of alcoholic beverages are located nearly everywhere in South Korea. Although it is prohibited by law to sell minors alcoholic drinks, an additional Ministry of Health and Welfare survey based on Korean teenagers showed that most of the respondents answered they were able to buy alcohol from convenience stores with the rate of 13.8%.
Fermented drinks have progressed alongside the history of Korea, a part that cannot be missed out when talking about the country. Although alcohol has been part of Korean history for such a long time, it is safe to say that it acts as both a cure and a poison. When consumption is regulated, alcoholic beverages may prove to be a great way to open up to new people and relieve stress. However, the detrimental health effects that heavy drinking can bring cannot be overlooked. It is, therefore, crucial for those who are of age to consider both sides of alcohol before teaching minors the drinking culture of Korea.
Brian (Hyunje) Park
Brian (Hyunje) Park email@example.com
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