Okay most places don’t drink alcohol for breakfast, but outside North America beer and liquor are so normal it’s okay to drink at a business lunch meeting.
In Germany and Austria, beer is a treasured and time-honored tradition. They take great pride in their breweries, often going so far as to remain loyal to their regional favorites.
It’s not uncommon to have a drink with lunch, to pop open some champagne in the teacher’s lounge, or to spend a raucous night singing and drinking at the local brauhaus with your coworkers. In Austria, liquor is served at prom, and my 14 year old students gifted me with Austrian beer as a going away present.
With a teenage drinking age—16 for beer, 18 for liquor and spirits—both Germany and Austria encourage young adults to let loose and enjoy childhood. Add to that a well-developed public transportation system and lax open container laws, and you’ve got a party.
Those ingredients don’t always add up to a favorable outcome.
In South Korea, drinking is just as important to business culture as it is to personal lives. Companies sponsor “team bonding” nights, which usually include copious amounts of soju, karaoke, and social pressure to partake in both. These events often take place on weeknights, and employees are expected to stay until the boss goes home and arrive to work the next morning ready to go.
No wonder the country has the highest hours worked and the lowest productivity in the world.
The younger crowd attending college often drink to excess, a habit modeled by their parents and the older generation. With a drinking age of 19, laws allowing open containers, and a country that requires liquor to socialize, the drinking culture here reeks more of irresponsibility than shared cultural pride. Korea’s number one drink is soju, a liquor that’s less about taste as it is about cheap alcohol. It’s not uncommon to find dried vomit on the street on a Tuesday morning. And often the last subway of the night smells of liquor and bad decisions.
In Germany and Austria, I found alcohol to be more of a complement to the culture—something to partake in and experience. In Korea, alcohol feels more like a passive aggressive requirement to ease entry into a social group, office life included, and often leads to over-drinking and embarrassment.