Do you eat lunch alone in the restroom too?
In the corner of campuses across Korea amongst the swell of energy for the new semester, there are a few students who are looking for an isolated place like an empty classroom or a restroom stall to eat their lunch alone. This is called 혼밥 Hon-bap, short for 혼자 먹는 밥. So why are they hiding from other people's eyes?
It was a restroom which measured less than 1.6m² that a college student, Nam (20), visits after class on March 17th. His lunch? One roll of gimbap (dried seaweed roll) and one bottled beverage over a ceramic toilet table. Nam has few friends because Nam isn’t a member of any club or department activity, so Nam has been eating lunch in the restroom since his freshman year. It is a habit that he chose not to reveal to others, and there are times where he is sad, wondering, 'Why do I eat my meal out of sight?'
A returning student, Im (25), who went back to school for one last semester says, "When I came back, I had less than 10 phone numbers of friends in my college."
Most of them are people who have difficulty adjusting to college life after spending high school being with the same friends in the same classes every day. Analysts say that it is natural in Korean society where individual space is valued for the increasing number of people who are eating alone, but it collides with the traditional Korean view that meals must be eaten with others. A professor of psychology at Seoul National University, Gwak Keum Joo analyzes that, "from a evolutional psychology viewpoint, people tend to feel shame while eating alone due to the old habit of eating meals together.”
However, there are also many people who spontaneously eat their meals alone. They say that eating alone has benefits; it saves time that people waste on finding a restaurant, making reservations, and choosing what they want to eat. They say that there is no need to keep up unnecessary relationships with mealtime smalltalk, and they tend to drift towards restaurants which are for eating alone – usually around Korean university towns.
Lunchtime loners combine their practice with an ongoing internet trend called ‘authenticating eating alone’. Earlier this year when the new semester started, there were many posts on internet communities that people took of pictures of themselves eating alone in a restroom or a bench. Jung Sang Jin, a professor of sociology at Sogang University say that people do this action to get solace knowing that ‘I am not alone’ and to feel the pleasure of publicly breaking the fixed idea that people have to eat a meal with others.