[VIEWPOINT]Party culture could use adjusting

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[VIEWPOINT]Party culture could use adjusting

Year-end parties are probably the most important events in December for Koreans. There is no research to show how many year-end parties a Korean attends on average, but when I look at our staff or at Korean friends around me, it seems that most people have appointments to go drinking almost every night. Perhaps that's why it's so difficult to make dinner appointments with Koreans at this time of the year.

There are many kinds of year-end parties at work - parties for an entire company, parties for individual teams and even parties with those who are simply close. Classmates from the same graduating class in elementary school, middle school, high school and universities also get together. I've even heard of year-end parties for former employees - I don't know how Koreans can keep track of them all. Also, when I imagine how much people will drink at these parties, I get a headache myself.

It's the same for women. I often have business meetings at the Ritz Carlton, which is near my office, and lately the hotel has been crowded with housewives attending year-end parties. A female manager in our office told me that when she listened to the talk in her sauna, she couldn't believe all the year-end parties housewives will be attending. Women also have year-end parties with classmates from their high schools and universites, friends from their religious groups, friends from the old neighborhood, friends from their health clubs, members of a gye, mothers of their children's school friends, mothers of their children's friends from extracurricular activities and on and on.

Of course there is a positive side to it. All this getting together, eating, and drinking likely helps bring a healthier economy. But if we were going to close the year with an event, wouldn't personal year-end parties be more meaningful? For the year-end event at DaimlerChrysler, all of us went to Yongpyong for two days with our families. The first night we were there, one of our expatriate directors dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out gifts to the children. I will not forget the faces on the children when they met the "real" Santa Claus, or thought he might be the real thing since he was a foreigner.

The company year-end party is a small way to applaud all the effort the staff has put in during the year. The love and encouragement from their families make it possible for staff members to dedicate themselves to the company, which is why we thought the year-end party should be spent with our families.

A friend told me about a unique year-end party Bacardi-Martini holds. Though the company's business is liquor, Bacardi-Martini doesn't have drinking parties at the end of the year. Instead it holds a charity party to help homes for children and the handicapped. The company donates all the proceeds from ticket sales to help the needy. It's inspiring to know that a business staff agreed that the best way to close out at year is by helping the less fortunate.

The year-end party culture for Korean men is quite uniform. First rounds are at a Korean restaurant with meat or sushi, and second rounds at a noraebang or dallanjujeom. Though drunk by now, people still head for a third round. This is the stage when it is not people who drink, but when alcohol starts drinking people. While their families waits for them at home, the men drink away the night, trying to forget the past year. The next morning they wake up looking for haejangguk, a soup to relieve their upset stomachs, go to a sauna during working hours and then head out for another night of drinking.

The Korean culture of remembering the good, forgetting the bad and spending time with those who are close is great. It's only natural that this culture prospers in Korea, especially with the jeong, or sentiment, that Koreans have for friends.

As a foreigner, I'm very envious of this camaraderie. But it would be a nice change to have more creative year-end parties for a change. A party with family could be much more fun and meaningful than torturing ourselves with alcohol night after night, as well as making us a better husband and father.


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The writer is the president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.

by Wayne Chumley

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