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Understanding Kdrama: Soju 101

BY Joan MacDonald | Sep 13, 2013 10:07 AM EDT


It's hard to find a kdrama without a drinking scene and the alcohol of choice is usually soju, a vodka-like rice liquor.

You may have noticed that kdrama drinking scenes usually accomplish a few things. Either the characters get to confess feelings they could not otherwise own up to or they act in a seemingly out-of-character way.

In fact, a Korean proverb says that you can't know a man until you've drunk with him.

Drinking scenes are also a good excuse for a piggyback ride home or an embarrassing morning after scene during which one of the characters cannot or chooses not to remember what happened the night before.

You don't have to look far for a transforming kdrama soju scene. In "I Hear Your Voice," Lee Bo Young and Lee Da Hee discuss their mutual history only after they've had a few shots. In "Good Doctor," Joo Sang Wook won't let Moon Chae Won forget that she once got drunk and confessed that she liked him.

As to doing things you probably should not do, in "Two Weeks," Lee Jun Ki gets drunk so he can sleep with the woman who bought him a suit. And the craziest soju-fired transformation of all is in "Master's Sun" when Gong Hyo Jin cannot drink because ghosts take over her body.

But no matter how silly a person might get after drinking soju, did you know there's a protocol for consuming Korea's favorite alcoholic beverage?

Here are some hints in case you ever find yourself out drinking with a Korean business acquaintance, your work colleagues and possibly your boss.

1)    The oldest person or the one with the highest rank will offer a drink first.

2)    Bow your head slightly while the drink is poured

3)    Accept the glass with both of your hands. Take it in your left palm and support it with your right hand.

4)    Look away. Turn your face to the side while drinking in front of a superior.

5)    After your superior offers you a drink, you may offer one back. Use the same glass. When pouring, hold the bottle in both hands and fill the glass.

6)    If someone yells "one shot," drain the glass in a single shot.

7)    If you see an empty drink on the table, offer to refill it.

Drinking with friends does not have as many rules. Just keep filling glasses, except for your own. If you fill a friend's glass, you can use your right hand.

If you're looking for a toast, you can say "gunbae," which literally means "bottoms up."

And remember the lessons kdramas have taught you. Try not to drink so much you wind up in an embarrassing situation.

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