Name any country in the world and the custom of drinking will tell you so much about the culture. Both Romania and Korea have their own distinct drinking culture. Although we may think that drinking is nothing more than the consumption of alcohol, the customs associated with this pastime differ from country to country.
I think I drank my first glass of wine when I was quite young, around eight, or nine years old, If I remember correctly. My grandparents always insisted that I and my sister should drink a glass of red wine after lunch on the weekend because, according to my wise old grandmother, if you drink red wine, your blood will be the better for it. I guess it means that drinking red wine enhances the blood circulation; that it will make you stronger and healthier. I don't know if this is true, but I do know that many people believe it so. It is definitely a good excuse for drinking. So it should come as no surprise, then, that red wine is one of Romania's favorite drinks.
Romania's traditional alcoholic beverage is a spirit drink called ?uica (tzuica). It is made out of different kinds of fruit and contains, depending on the type, 20-30% to 50-60% alcohol. People, especially in the rural areas, usually drink a "shot" of ?uica before meals. Most ?uica is home-made, and is produced solely for self-consumption. Although it is illegal, the practice is tolerated because people have been doing this from time immemorial. My grandfather makes this kind of drink. In the summer and autumn he collects some of the plums, apples and apricots growing in his yard, and leaves them to ferment in big barrels. Actually, it is a bit disgusting watching the fruit decompose, especially when the ants fall into the barrels and ferment along with the fruit. The smell is also terrible, but the final product is appreciated by the whole family as well as the neighbors. Other than tuica, those who have their own vineyard, produce wine. Homemade white or red wine is widely appreciated as it is considered more natural and, of course, cheaper.
In Romania, despite the laws and increased taxes on alcohol, people drink a lot. Should the culture be blamed for this, or the stress of living?
One characteristic of Romania that many Koreans find intriguing is the fact that it is illegal to drink in public spaces, such as in parks or on the street. That is why I was very much surprised to come to Korea and see people drinking without any restrictions. When I told one of my friends about the Romanian law, he told me, laughing, that he could not live in Romania, no Korean could. He was probably exaggerating... or was he? In my opinion, this particular law has improved the image of the cities. For example, in my city really drunk people are rarely seen. I think if it hadn't been for this law the parks would have been filled with drunken people.
Although people like drinking, the habit is not appreciated by a lot of people. Maybe it is because the excessive consumption of alcohol is usually associated with violence and other criminal acts. It is not uncommon to watch on television news about men who, after drinking a lot, got angry and killed someone for no reason. Excessive drinking probably has the same outcome everywhere in the world, even if people are not as quick tempered as Romanians.
In Korea I have seen many drunken people, especially on the weekends; most noticeably, men and women lumbering on the streets, trying to find their way home. The first questions that come to my mind are: why in the world do they drink so much, and why would they want to make fools of themselves? There may be personal reasons, but the culture seems to play an important role in this situation. I have met people who don't like drinking, but because others drank, they had no choice but to do the same. It seems that, in Korea, you are not a man if you don't drink and, weirder still, manhood can only be proven by drinking oneself near to death.
However, in spite of this strong drinking culture, most of the people I know don't like drinking to excess. In fact, it was they who criticized this aspect of the culture and apprised me of the reasons why Koreans consume so much alcohol.
What I also found intriguing about Korea is that students go out for a drink with their professors. Drinking with professors is hard to imagine in Romania, while the idea of professors paying for everything is almost impossible to conceive.
Nevertheless, despite these cultural differences, the degrees of drinking consumption are the same everywhere. People drink, some moderately, some too much. I believe tradition is the key. But sometimes tradition is wrong; therefore, when it is wrong, it should be changed.
Teodora Zafiu .
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