Living in Seoul for almost 12 years I’ve seen a lot of changes. The city itself looks different. There are more high rise apartment complexes and they are getting taller. International shops and restaurants dominate every shopping district. Over 1,000 Starbucks coffee shops are spread across the country but it feels like they are all in Seoul!
And society is changing too. Stress levels are high and happiness levels are low, so people are searching for more quality of life.
I just finished reading a couple of Korean books on trend forecasts for 2018 (Trend Korea 2018 and Korea Business Trends 2018) and I’ve picked out five words from the books that represent some of the trends we’ll see this year. And I’ll share them over the next week.
The first word is ALONERS!
There are a lot more borrowed English words in Korean now too (that’s another trend we can discuss next time!)
Whilst technology is going to play more and more part in our lives, one of the biggest trends is the growing desire for individualism led by the ALONERS.
WHO ARE the ALONERS?
The word ALONER comes from the English ‘alone‘. More people are living alone than ever before. TV shows featuring celebrities who live alone are popular too. But aloners may not necessarily live by themselves. Members of the ‘Kangaroo tribe’ (young adults who still live with their parents) can be aloners and so can married people who just want some time on their own. (I hear you.)
‘Aloners‘ may want to avoid interacting with strangers or they may simply enjoy the freedom of doing stuff on their own, alone. They want to escape conformity and pursue their own hobbies and interests.
Since Korea is traditionally very group-orientated, this is a big change. And nowhere is this more obvious that in eating culture. Many restaurants only have one or two dishes on the menu. And everyone in the party is expected to share from a large communal bowl or at least eat the same thing as everyone else.
At one job I had, all the teachers were taken to lunch and served seolleongtang cow bone soup. Nobody was shown a menu or asked if they were ok with this. (to be honest, I wasn’t! But I didn’t say anything.)
Korean drama director Lee Byoung Hoon writes in his book about how he took his crew to the same soybean stew restaurant day after day for lunch while they were filming. He really liked that soup and was oblivious to the fact that other people were sick of eating it, but just couldn’t say anything!
When we went to Danyang I really enjoyed this marsh snail stew restaurant, but that might not be everyone’s cup of tea either.
NEW ALONER VOCABULARY
Going to the cinema alone? Isn’t that just for weirdos? Not anymore. And that’s lucky because last week Mr Kim had to go to the cinema on his own to watch Star Wars. Happily we can now call him an aloner! (and not a weirdo.) Smaller aloner-friendly pots of popcorn and snacks are on sale too. (But Mr Kim is too stingy to buy popcorn.)
There’s even a new portmanteau word to describe going to the cinema on your own – hon-yong (alone+cinema)
In fact there’s a whole list of newly coined words for this new trend. The words all start with hon, the first sound of the word hon-ja (혼자) meaning ‘alone’. And this has been blended with parts of other words (including borrowed words from English like ‘camping’ and ‘hotel’) to describe these new activities. For example…
hon-bap (혼밥 alone+rice) eating alone.
hon-sul (혼술 alone+alcohol) drinking alone.
hon-heng (혼행alone+travel) solo travel.
hon-yong (혼영alone+movie) going to the cinema alone.
hon-tel (혼텔 alone+hotel) staying at hotels alone!
hon-cam (혼캠 alone+camping) are you getting the idea? – camping on your own.
And then there’s the rather vague hon-nol (혼놀 alone+play) enjoying yourself on your own…
HON-BAP EATING ALONE
So how will restaurants change to cater for the aloners?
For ideas, attention may be turning to Japan, where eating alone is not unusual. There’s even a popular Japanese drama about it. Kodoku No Gurume (The Lonely Gourmet) is about a salaryman who travels around the country enjoying all sorts of great food alone. (I’ve just given away the whole plot!) It has been on TV here too. And we are already seeing more Japanese style restaurants with counters (or smaller tables) where single people can eat.
Korean BBQ meat restaurants used to be a NO NO for singles. Table for one? I don’t think so. You might still get some strange looks sitting at a table grilling your portion of pork. So some restaurants are being designed for single eaters. Dividing walls and individual TV screens give the customer privacy and comfort. see some pictures here.
What makes a good HON BAP restaurant?
Guide books like My Solo Food Trip,(나홀로 푸드 트립published in December 2017) recommend places to eat and drink alone in Seoul based on certain criteria. And it’s not just about the quality of the food.
It is possible to call and reserve a table for one? Can the customer order from a device rather than a waiter? Are there separation walls in the restaurant allowing people to sit in quiet corners or areas? Are there tables that seat just one person? Are there TVs or magazines available? Is there somewhere to store personal belongings? Can customers leave bottles of alcohol they buy for their next visit? Can customers have a conversation with the chef if they want to? And of course, are there sockets by the table to recharge devices?
So it’s not just about eating (or doing anything else) alone. It’s about being able to do it in COMFORT. One of the outcomes of this aloner trend is that there will be more choice in all areas of life since taste is becoming more individual. And I am all for that. 👍