How to Drink Soju in South Korea

person holding clear drinking glass with water

Conducting Business the Traditional Korean Way

Planning on conducting business in South Korea? There’s no doubt that visitors who are on a visit trip to South Korea will be asked to participate in one of the most common traditions in this country – drinking soju. Soju is a popular alcoholic drink made traditionally from rice. It is akin to drinking hard liquor. It takes somewhat like vodka, and there is a proper way to drinking it in Asian culture. In order to impress and show respect to your Asian associates, here are a few tips for drinking soju in a group.

Soju is shared, so visitors can expect people to drink out of your glass. It’s a sign of respect for a senior associated in the group to drink from your glass of soju.

The Custom of Accepting Soju

person holding bottle beside table with cup, bottle, and can

Someone may offer the guest their empty glass; the guest must accept it, and wait for them to pour soju. The most gracious response to receiving the soju is to nod, thank the person, smile, and drink the soju. Keep smiling, even if it’s a bit strong to the taste. When Korean’s offer guests their glass to drink from, the guest can assume that they respect him or her or are extending friendship to the guest. Guests who do not drink should not panic if they are offered soju. It is okay to say that drinking is part of a lifestyle for religious reasons or because of illness. Korean people are understanding, and will appreciate the guest’s honesty.

Who Should Pour the Soju?

A guest should never pour his or her own soju. Allow someone in the group to pour it, and the glass will be filled as soon as it is empty. It is a custom to allow the glass to be emptied before it is refilled, and it is disrespectful to allow a person’s glass of soju to stay empty. Earn bonus points by pouring soju for an executive with an empty glass. Comrades will be impressed that the guest took the time to learn the custom.

How to Accept the Drink

When someone offers a guest soju, take it with two hands. Koreans believe that it is a sign of respect to accept any gift or drink, for that matter, with both of their hands. Conversely, if guests pour or give someone soju, offer it over with two hands, as well. Make the soju last by drinking it slowly, because that way it will take longer to have the glass refilled. Make the glass last all night, unless the drink is poured into a shot glass.

Being invited to share soju may be a step in the right direction when conducting business in Korea. In any case, sharing soju can be an opportunity to make a favorable first impression.