Culture Shot: We (Like Alcohol in the System of an Expat) Are So Easily Assimilated

It’s Friday night. The week has been filled with work, in my case kids screaming answers to questions they’ve only half listened to with answers they’ve only half formed before they started talking, and you (and I) both want to get as far down a bottle, or many bottles, of soju as one can over the course of a night. In a respectable way of course, we’re civilized here in the Neon Republic of South Korea.
So where do we go? Well, I’m no expert but I’ll take you under my wing and show you around, it can be hard for the un-initiated to grasp the concept of drinking like a Korean here.

“Chopsticks? I prefer chop-knives-and-forks but if you insist!”

Round 1: The bell rings and we’re raring to go at it with the old one-two. So we decide on where to go, seeing as we’re probably Hank Marvin after a full day teaching English we’ll go somewhere we can get some substantial food, and drink of course. Barbecue is a great choice, we can cook our own meat and eat at the pace we set while feeling like Gods of the Griddle with out personal barbecue on the tabletop. We’ll start with wine because I’m somewhat faint of heart and soju can be a struggle to start with. Especially when drinking the traditional rice beverage neat as Koreans are prone to doing.

“Oh yummy, my favorite, I love red lettuce” “Emmet, that’s steamed octopus tentacles”

Round 2: We’ve made it through round 1 with barely a scratch on our sobreity, or so we are aware. We’re here to drink, not to count bevvies! We move on up in the world and decide we’re still feeling somewhat classy and hit on another bar. In here, as in most bars natives frequent, you must buy food with your alcohol otherwise you definitely have  a drinking problem. We could exempt ourselves as we are foreigners or waygookin as we are co-called in Korean, but we’re still fitting in and trying to keep in with the culture.

Here we get more soju to accompany our delightful platter of: steamed octopus, raw beef which is to be mixed through with raw egg, pear strips and red pepper strips… Delicious. We’re fitting in remember? One must not turn one’s nose up at food no matter how unusual or downright incomprehensible it seems to our Westerner palettes.

How does it taste? In truth, I’ve only had this once and the beef was tender yet tasted somewhat like what I can only describe as a rare steak and sawdust. However, the sauces on the side did something to temper the sawdusty taste of the beef. The octopus, red pepper and pear was all very delicious.

Round 2 also features games played with the caps of the soju bottles which we’ve ploughed through like a John Deere through slurry. Each person takes a turn to attempt to flick the metal coil from the cap and whoever succeeds is the king and selects two other members of the party to drink. GUNBAE! Whew maybe we are getting drunk. By the way is it just me or are those silkworm cocoons looking more and more delicious?

 
Oh dear… It was just me. At least I can’t remember what my lessons this week were about anymore, we’re getting somewhere now. The last of the soju has been drank though so it’s onwards and upwards.

This is the only photo I have of a Norebang and I haven’t any form of memory of being there.

Round 3: We’re feeling happy, undoubtedly the best kind of drunk. Where to next? Well we whiled away many the hour with the soju and beef so our next choice could be Chicken and Beer but I can’t drink beer so we’ll opt for the most popular form of late night entertainment in Korea: The Norebang.

“Emmet, are you quite sure?” “Oh definitely the natives go there all the time!” “But what on Earth is a norebang?” Well, I’m glad you’ve asked, because they are wonderful. A norebang is a building in which there are many private rooms with couches and TVs and karaoke machines, as well as more soju, just the ticket at this hour! So we sit for hours warbling along to the dulcet tones of Sinead O’Connor and Enya and even brave the gravelly tracks of U2 just to remind everyone that we are Irish! Lest they have forgotten it after our evening of assimilating.

Maybe it’s the three bottles of soju we’ve already drunk, maybe it’s the thirst worked up from belting out The Cranberries Linger for the fourth time but the soju goes down much better in this place.

Now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call it a night because I’m tired and the crushing weight of how Irish I am, or perhaps my inebriation has left me feeling rather unwell and I fear I may throw up. But please let me know how rounds 4 and 5 waiting for the subway to reopen to take you home go.
Disclaimer: This is not always the typical foreigner night out but is a compendium of what a typical Korean night out has been for me here with my workmates. Also I nicked the norebang picture from Jamie on Facebook. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me.
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