Teetotalers can face a tough challenge in doing international business in many countries where drinking together is widely seen as a way to oil the wheels of commerce. This is especially true in East Asia.
A recent story on the CNN website advises business travelers on surviving a drinking session in Korea, where “it’s said that the success of your business roughly correlates to how well you can drink.” Most companies in Korea, the report said, have dinner and drinking sessions at least once a month, where participants down multiple rounds of different types of spirits according to a set etiquette. Drinking with a business partner is considered the best way to get to know them. The French website, Marketing Chine, reports on similar business customs in China. And WorldHum reports that a night out with beer and sake drinking may be a key to sealing a deal in Japan.
In these countries, refusing to take part – at least for men – can be a barrier to business relations. CNN advises that, in Korea, travelers should never turn down drinks, but should instead get rid of the alcohol surreptitiously while pretending to take part.
The pressure to drink, and the elaborate etiquette surrounding it, may not be as strong in other cultures, but it is still common is some countries. Some Russians claim that the fabled dinners with numerous rounds of vodka toasts are history, but World Business Culture advises that you can still expect a lot of heavy drinking at most business dinners.
In most European countries, like the United States, there is a certain amount of business drinking, but it is easier to turn down offers without offense.
For those who choose to take part in drinking sessions abroad, either for business or social reasons, we can offer this useful link: a phonetic guide to toasting in 50 languages.