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Single-person households in South Korea

‘Solo’ culture

South Korea, being an Asian country, has a common trait of all Asian cultures, and that is the importance of unity and family. Most Koreans often think dating or being part of a particular club or community is essential to maintaining a happy life. Thus, most daily activities such as eating out, gaming, traveling, and watching a movie are done together. This unspoken rule has made it hard for those who live alone to enjoy their everyday life since food delivery portions are made for two and more people and tickets for many events are sold for pairs or groups.

However, with the rising influence of digital devices, the embodiment of social distancing during the pandemic, and the financial burdens of supporting a big family, many young people tend to live alone. Traveling alone or enjoying food at a restaurant by oneself is getting more and more popular in Korea. Because of the one-person culture, new terms such as ‘honsul’, ‘honpab’, and ‘honyoheang’ have become trendy. These terms derive from the combination of Korean words “by myself” and activities such as eating, traveling, and drinking alcohol. It is not only referred to people who are not married but also to students who live independently or any other person who does activities alone.

Food and delivery

The names of activities meant for single people are put together with the Korean word ‘solo’. Thus, eating out alone or ordering home delivery for one person is called ‘honpab’.

A couple of years ago, eating out alone was considered odd behavior. Many people would stare at such a person because the eating culture in Korea is about sharing food and chatting while eating. Lately, many people find it difficult to meet for a lunch due to busy lifestyles, so eating alone is getting more common. Cafes and restaurants try to make services more convenient for solo eaters - they set up separate single tables or hang curtains between them so that customers have more privacy and can eat alone. Besides, delivery services bring more convenience to single people by creating menu options for one person. Before this feature appeared, many popular delivery apps including Yogiyo (요기요), Baedal Minjok (배달의 민족), and Coupang Eats had menus for 2 and more people only. Also, some dishes such as tteokbokki, shabu-shabu, Korean fried chicken, and pizza were served in large portions, but recently smaller sizes have been added to menus.

Living alone

Foreigners who come to Korea have probably heard a lot about one-room housing. It is not surprising that such small apartments for students and single workers have become the best solution in terms of finances and privacy. Renting a proper apartment with several rooms is very expensive, so there are many alternatives like officetels, one-rooms, and goshiwons. Their common feature is a small space that should be occupied and decorated wisely so that everything can fit in. To solve this problem, some tech giants such as Samsung and other local brands have started producing single household appliances (small rice cookers, air fryers, fridges, and mini ovens).

Another advancement that came with the popularity of single housing is the security policy in large cities. Some time ago, there were many crimes related to illegal spying or harassment of single women. The Korean government has proposed special services for single-person households. For example, in big cities like Seoul, the government has suggested giving out low-cost security cameras and providing workshops on mental health for those who spend a lot of time alone and do not have constant support from their families. Many dark areas have been equipped with streetlights that have encouraging messages on them such as ‘you did great today’ or ‘stay safe’ to support those who go home late at night alone.

Apps

In Korea, the majority of single adults are women. This happens due to the fact that more and more women support feminism and do not want to be treated unfairly as wed women. Other reasons are financial burdens and careerism.

It is quite boring to live alone, so there are various programs and mobile applications for single people that are meant to unite them. For instance, there is an app Mihon (single men/women) where people can find sports, cultural or other activities that they can do together with other club members. For foreigners, there are many Facebook groups such as Expats Korea, Foreigners Abroad, or the mobile app Meetup.

Traveling alone

Only 5-6 years ago, in Korea, it was very rare to see a solo traveler, especially among young people. Many people believed that traveling alone was not safe or fun. However, nowadays people try to allocate some time for being alone and healing emotions while being alone.

Businesses now try to create new facilities for single travelers. Tourist spots try to attract single people by holding special sale events like ‘staycation packages’ and building accommodations for single travelers. Moreover, in Korea, like in many Asian countries, there are many capsule hotels for one person.

Drinking culture ‘honsul’

For Korean people, alcohol is as important as food. Both have certain cultural rules applied to them and mean being together with someone. Drinking alone has become common as there are more and more foreigners, coming to Korea, who do not consider it strange to drink beer alone somewhere in a pub.

‘Honsul’ (drinking alone) has become a new cultural thing among mainly young people in Korea. Many workers often have to work overtime, and they do not have time to meet with their friends and drink together, so they prefer to drink alone.

It is actually better to drink alone in Korea as the drinking culture is quite strict. At corporate parties, there is a hierarchy, and if your boss gives you a drink, you have to finish it. If you drink alone, you do not need to adjust to any social rules. That is why 'honsul' is a big trend nowadays.

One-person media

Everyone knows that Korea is a motherland of TV shows. There are not many countries that have such a variety of media content, and anyone can find something interesting to watch.

These days, there is a trend for one-person media that differs from traditional content. Content for the one-person media is created by influencers or internet users independently (usually YouTubers) and is about living alone. This includes 'mokbung' shows (eating on camera), living-alone vlogs, monolog vlogs, etc. The majority of single people in Korea have pets, so blogs about pets are very popular as well.
Text-based social media, including Twitter and Korean blog services Daum and Naver, is in the spotlight too, since quite a lot of users enjoy reading reviews about cafes, tours, and facilities posted there.
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