How to Get Drunk Around the World: 5 Countries & Their Drinking Rules

I’m not ashamed to admit that my travels are often planned around alcohol – trips to vineyards, distilleries and breweries are always toward the top of my travel to-do list – but I do get sick of the disparaging looks this admission generally receives. Tell someone you travel in order to taste new foods and you’re congratulated on your willingness to embrace other cultures. Tell someone you travel for booze and you’ll invariably be met with raised eyebrows and a look that suggests what a sad life you lead. But really, a country can be understood through its alcohol just as well as its food. Top tipples tend to represent top crops, hence Russia sips vodka (potatoes), Japan knocks back the sake (rice), and Mexico downs tequila (agave). Simple things like weather dictate how a nation drinks, whether it’s escaping cool winters or dismal summers in northern Europe’s cosy pubs or soaking up the sun with an ice cold beer on an Aussie beach.

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More interesting are the many rules and regulations that come with enjoying a pint or a shot in different lands. Few areas of life seem to come with as many traditions and potential cultural gaffes as going out for a drink, so here are a few rules to remember when you’re imbibing around the world.

The UK

Not many nations take their pubs as seriously as the Brits. Well, when the weather is this bad you need a refuge from the rain, so why not make it the pub? Drinking in Blighty has a few essential rules, and even western visitors have been known to make the odd faux pas when supping in the UK. I’ll never forget the tale of a Canadian who crossed the pond and was struck by the immense hospitality of the Brits. When a fellow Canuck who was Britain-bound enquired how much a pint cost she couldn’t say, gushing about the generosity of the locals who bought every pint in every pub. Alas, as much as I’d like to think my countrymen are that kind, drinkers aren’t apt to happily throw away their cash on charming strangers – they’re simply buying a round. If you drink with Brits, expect to buy a drink for everyone in your group and eventually they’ll each buy you one back. Skipping out on your round is one of the worst blunders you can make in Britain, but if you’re trying to save cash or cut down on the amount of drinks you consume, just opt out of the round when you arrive at the pub. And don’t ridicule Brits for drinking warm beer, unless you want to experience that other cultural event – the bar brawl. Criticise their traditional ales and you’ll be met with a tirade on how serving beer cool rather than ice cold lets you savour the flavours and that super-chilling your drinks is a practice reserved for beer not worth tasting!

>> Check out our London Indie Travel Guide and book a flight to London 

South Korea

The Far East abounds in cultural dos and don’ts, and bars are not immune from these well-ingrained rules. The Koreans are known to enjoy the odd drink or five, so you’d do well to brush up on alcoholic etiquette before setting foot in Seoul. The national drink is soju, a smooth rice-based liquor that leaves you waiting for the ‘post-shot shudder’ when you knock it back. Drinking soju with Koreans is all about age – not just that you’re old enough to try it, but that you acknowledge the senior person at your table and treat them accordingly. Fill their glass first, keep your brim lower during the regular toasts of kombei (one shot) and never refill your own glass – it’s the height of rudeness. The person who extends the invitation is generally the one who pays, though it’s not uncommon to move from bar to bar to give each reveller a chance to empty their pockets as you enter a new spot. Communal drinking is common, so don’t be offended if you’re expected to share one shot glass between the group – rinsing it out between users is acceptable. Oh and if you hope to avoid soju’s inexplicably evil hangover, remember one crucial point – when you fill someone’s glass, they’re meant to return the favour, so if you get a little over zealous with the bottle, it will come back to bite you in the ass later.

>> Read our Seoul Indie Travel Guide and find a flight to South Korea

Spain

The first thing travellers from those nations with strict alcohol laws will notice in Spain is the massive measures generally dished up in bars. Once the tower of ice and the generous free pour are in your glass, there’s only an inch or so for a mixer of any sort. But what you should watch out for more are Spain’s rules on who foots the bill, or you could end up fresh out of cash after the first bar. The Spanish phrase ‘te invito’ means ‘I’m buying,’ rather than ‘I’m inviting you to join me,’ so be careful how you ask people to go drinking. And while you might expect a free night out on your birthday, in Spain it’s the guest of honour who buys everyone else’s drinks – incentive to enjoy a quiet birthday at home! At other times of year buying in rounds just isn’t done, so if you fork out for everyone’s drinks you’ll likely get little more than a grin and a hearty gracias in return.

>> Check out our Barcelona Indie Travel Guide and read Travel Made Me Who I Am Today

Australia

You might expect a country with such a dedicated drinking culture to be awash with rules and regulations, but the Aussies are pretty easygoing in every area of life and the pub is no exception. There are, of course, a few golden rules to remember when you’re dealing with grog down under. If you’re offering a beer to an Aussie the crucial thing to remember is that it must, without exception, be icy cold – tepid beer is tantamount to treason (probably worse since the amber fluid is more highly thought of than the Queen by many). As in Britain the round, known here as the ‘shout,’ plays a significant role in Aussie pub life and is essential if you want to be well thought of when drinking with Australians. Nothing will lose you popularity points quicker than failing to buy for your drinking buddies when it’s your shout. In fact, the shout itself comes with a list of dos and don’ts – keeping up with your peers is expected as slow drinkers mess up the crucial timing of the round, offering to delay your shout until next week doesn’t cut it. And be careful what you order – treating everyone to a pint, schooner, middy, or pot (Australia abounds in genres of glass) of the cheapest draft beer then ordering a pricey cocktail in return will not make you any friends.

>> Read our Sydney Indie Travel Guide and find a flight to Sydney

South Africa

Like the Aussies, the South Africans are fond of fine local wine and ice-cold lager, though if you’re lucky you might stumble on the chance to sample something a little more traditional. Everyday drinking is pretty standard stuff – keep it chilled, keep it flowing, and don’t try to order wine that isn’t South African unless you’re out to make enemies. But should you be lucky enough to join in a traditional beer drinking ceremony then there’s a list of rules you’d do well to remember. While women are generally the brewmasters (or mistresses) in traditional South African culture, they’re at the back of the queue when it comes to drinking, so put your feminist beliefs to the side and wait patiently until it’s your turn to drink (if you’re allowed to drink with men at all, that is). The beer in question is neither fizzy nor clear, so don’t expect an amber pint in an icy glass. Sorghum beer is an opaque, pinkish brew with a bitter taste and a low alcohol content. Passed around in a bucket-sized pot, you should squat or kneel, blow away the bubbles and sip before passing the pot around until it’s empty. Rubbing your stomach charades style compliments the brewer, passing the bucket without sipping certainly does not. Refusing to drink is frowned upon, though if you don’t fancy letting the often-lumpy liquid pass your lips no one will notice you faking it.

>> Read our Cape Town Indie Travel Guide and our Johannesburg Indie Travel Guide

Bottom’s Up

Of course, when all’s said and done, any nation that values its drinking culture so highly probably also puts having a good time near the top of their priorities list, so boozy blunders will often be overlooked. Just try to remember a few local rules, keep smiling and learn how to translate that all important word everywhere you go – cheers! Read more about drinking around the world:

Find out more about Lucy Corne, and read her other BootsnAll articles photo credits: stev.ie, Justin Ornellas,  Adam Jones, Ph.D, Wagner T. Cassimiro “Aranha”, defaulterror

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Older comments on How to Get Drunk Around the World: 5 Countries & Their Drinking Rules

Nicolas De Corte
18 January 2010

Hmmm, it looks like I got some Aussie blood

Metalchick
18 January 2010

This is an awesome list. Thanks for the heads up. The Brits do love their ales for sure. You should do a list of toasts to accompany drinking in each section and include Ireland! And whatever you do, don’t mix your liquors and beers… holy hangover batman.

Roberto Rocha
18 January 2010

Cool article. It would be nice to see it expanded with other countries. Here are a few:

In Hungary, never cheer by knocking beer bottles. They vowed never to do this after a rebellion against Habsburg rulers was crushed and the victors celebrated by clinking beers.

In Russia, drink your vodka ice cold, and always spaced with water and finger foods. There’s a reason Russians can drink so much so well.

LucyC
18 January 2010

Thanks Roberto – I’m really hoping to learn a lot of new drinking rules from comments on this article!

And thanks Metalchick and Nicolas for the feedback!

stationaryhobo
02 February 2010

I suppose it is not surprising that a common rule around the world is one person buys yuo a drink you are supposed to return the favor.

Lisa Goltz Eastman
15 March 2010

Good thing I have no interest in going to South Africa. That’s crap!

LilaBear
13 April 2010

In Australia, a ’round’ is not the same as a ‘shout’. By my understanding, a ’round’ of drinks is just the next bunch or ‘lot’ of drinks, no matter who buys it. A ‘shout’ is when someone else buys it for you. For example, if I buy the next round of drinks, then it’s my shout. But if someone else buys my next round of drinks, it’s their shout, but still my round. I could be misunderstanding the British definition of ’round’, though.

Probably would have been helpful to include the applicable laws, too. For example, in Australia the legal drinking age is 18, and I believe in the UK it’s 16 (with certain restrictions).

LilaBear
13 April 2010

To further explain: somebody might ask “who’s buying the next round?” but they wouldn’t say “who’s buying the next shout?” You don’t buy a shout, you buy (or shout) a round :)