— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) November 5, 2014
Over the past few days, the Internet has been ablaze with the story of the Irish woman denied a job in South Korea due to her nation's reputation for drinking.
It goes like this: Katie Mulrennan, a young Irish woman, was recently looking for a teaching job in Seoul. The 26-year-old applied to a number of positions, but one response stood out to her. She had been rejected, but it wasn't because she wasn't qualified: It was because of her nationality.
Mulrennan was Irish, the polite response noted, and the client didn't want to hire an Irish person because of the "alcoholism nature of your kind." Mulrennan, shocked, posted the response online, where it swiftly became a viral hit. A story featuring an interview with the young Irish woman became the most popular stories on the BBC's Web site, and news outlets from around the world covered it.
Of course, there is a genuine link between Ireland and alcohol. Guinness and Jameson are well-known brands of alcohol all around the world, and you can find a dank, dingy "Irish pub" in virtually every major city (almost always a terrible imitation of the real thing).
However, a blanket charge of Irish alcoholism is hard to justify. A number of international bodies publish comparative figures on alcohol consumption around the world. Take, for instance, these 2013 figures published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). You can click to enlarge it.
Ireland does come near the top there, though other countries quite clearly beat it. Other than Luxembourg, where the numbers are skewed by purchases from non-residents, the top of the list is France.
Other data sets paint a more complex picture. In the map below, you can see 2010 data on alcohol consumption from the World Health Organization:
Ireland scored high, but again it was not top of the list: The honor instead goes to Belarus, the post-Soviet dictatorship. Especially notable here is another high-scoring country, however: According to WHO, South Korean adults on average consumed 12.3 liters of alcohol in 2010, versus 11.9 in Ireland (and 17.5 in Belarus).
Of course, alcohol consumption isn't necessarily the same thing as alcoholism. However, the number of alcoholics per country isn't easy to find. WHO does publish figures on what it calls "heavy episodic drinking," more commonly referred to as binge drinking.
These numbers are not favorable for the Irish. WHO finds 36.5 percent of the adult population there had done it in the last month, while just 6 percent of South Koreans had. Austria tops the list, however, with 38.5 percent of the population binge drinking.
Despite their levels of overall consumption and percentage of the population who binge drink, neither Ireland or South Korea get top marks for in WHO's "pattern of drinking" indicator, which the organization says "reflects the alcohol-attributable burden of disease of a country, given the same level of alcohol consumption."
Both countries receive a rating of 3, or "medium risky," while Russia and Ukraine get top marks.
There are plenty of other statistics out there that paint a more mixed picture of alcohol consumption in both countries (South Koreans apparently drink twice as much liquor as Russians, for example). All this has led to some cries of "pot calling the kettle black." One Reddit user asked: "Aren't South Koreans the drunks of Asia?"
Some commentators have questioned what the e-mail says about discrimination in South Korea — already a topic of debate in the country.
Still, perhaps it's unfair to read too much into South Korea society based on one strange e-mail. And for her part, Katie Mulrennan seems to be taking it in her stride. "I was annoyed about it," she told the BBC. "But I can also see it was a little bit hilarious as well."