Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Drinking at work

It's 1pm and I just got back to my office from the cafeteria on the first day of final exams. We were to have a special lunch for teachers (students were released early) which included an entire pig. When I arrived in the lunchroom there were two long tables spread with fruit, cabbage and sesame leaves for wrapping the pork and kwamegi (fermented dried fish - a Pohang winter specialty), and lots of alcohol.

Did I mention this was in the school cafeteria?

Alcohol is a big part of Korean culture - it helps people to open up to one another and makes everyone feel friendly. If you refuse a drink that someone offers you, they may think you don't like them, or that you don't want to spend time with them. They'll probably get offended and snub you in the hallway the next day.

My vice principal wandered throughout the cafeteria, offering alcohol to anyone and everyone who made eye contact. He loves to drink, and everyone knows it. As one of the senior school officials, he can't be refused. If you REALLY don't want to drink, you have to be quick about it, and give him a bottle of soda to pour you before he fills your cup with beer or soju or whatever happens to be his alcohol of choice. When he came to my table with a bottle of makgeolli (rice wine), he filled everyone's glass and we had a cheers. He drained his glass immediately and poured another.

I commented to Mr. Lee, one of my older and most respected coteachers, that this would never happen in America. He replied that, in Korea, teachers really like a vice principal who enjoys drinking. If he is "good at drinking", says Mr. Lee, "he will be good in the office" as well.

Perhaps needless to say, everyone loves our vice principal, who was red-faced and tottering quite visibly by the end of our 30-minute lunch. This afternoon at 2pm we have a teachers' sports day, which includes group jump-rope and an obstacle course. It definitely has potential for hilarity.


  1. Do they have Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups like that in Korea? It sounds like it would be a rough place to be in recovery.

  2. Hope you share video for the teachers sports day. :-)

  3. i should be due for a promotion then . . .

  4. this word verification is terrible, my word? vengiria


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