Not just problem for us
By Bae In-hye
I'm writing in regard to the Thought of the Times, ``Living in a weird drinking culture” on July 17 by Oh Jung-hun. I would like to comment on his personal anecdote on Korea's heavy, dangerous, unhealthy and by his words, ``weird" drinking culture.
First of all, I believe his drinking experience at the trading company was the most extreme case of the ones I have heard of. Of course Korean firms were widely known as frequently having inevitable dinners with superiors.
But as Korea became more assimilated to Western culture, more people became tolerant of those missing out on the dinner meetings due to personal issues. Of course there are some ``hippopotamuses” in every aspect of life. There is the bully at school, tough taskmaster at work, and aggressive senior officer at military service.
Regarding this phenomenon, Mr. Oh was just unlucky. His experience 25 years ago might have happened by chance or happened to be the worst case we can face in our careers. As an intern at a foreign-based company, although I do not have the full experience of working at a typical Korean company, I hear from colleagues who have been working in the field for several years and those who just been hired by conglomerates do not usually complain about the dinner meetings with superiors. Being offered a glass of soju from them, it seemed they rather enjoyed the event, feeling that they were getting closer to those with authority and power.
Moreover, the heavy drinking culture does not always relate to Koreans. I studied in the U.S. as an exchange student and, according to what I observed Americans were not much different to us Koreans in drinking culture.
The same applies to most other nationalities as well except for a few cultures that reject alcohol, considering it as one of the evils of life. People from most cultures drink seeking more intimacy, a process to get to know each other and what makes relationships more valuable.
It is true that those who do not drink are somehow treated as the ``ugly duckling” as Mr. Oh mentioned in his article but this is sadly, unavoidable. People become closer when they get to know more about each other. However this is very difficult when people nowadays tend to disclose more about themselves, becoming more egocentric. Thus, except when drinking together, not many people share their true feelings and say what they actually have on their mind.
Through this, in some ways, the painful procedure of going through hangover the next day, those people who drank together become closer and become friends. Those who did not drink and whine about how they were left out because they could not drink are the ones who could not open their mind and hearts as did those who got drunk.
If you could do this without the help of the alcohol, there would be no barriers for making friends. As these overall circumstances are not only applicable to Korea but other cultures as well, we now cannot claim Mr. Oh's experience as a ``Korean" drinking culture.
Despite all the changes we have undergone to become more westernized, it is inevitable that we still keep the Confucianism spirit. However, we have been too modest and humble in that we have often blamed our own culture for negative opinions but it's time to see the whole picture from the step behind instead of seeing a few negative sides of us.
As the leading cultural DNA carriers of Asia, I hope we Koreans feel more dignity and pride in our own culture and speak of its brighter sides. There are millions of beautiful elements of Korean culture that we can take pride in. Now, let's try to think more positively and be more optimistic while quietly putting in the efforts to fix the ill aspects of our deeply-rooted culture.
This change of thinking and attitude will be a step forward into the higher ranks of advanced nations in the world.
The writer is a senior studying business at Hanyang University. She is also a research assistant at Nielson Company Korea. Her email address is email@example.com.