The “Ppalli ppalli” Culture: Is the Love for Fast Pace Dying?
Karin Ness Kjølstad
If you have ever been to the Republic of Korea, heard Koreans speak or just watched a Korean drama, you most certainly have encountered the term “ppalli” (빨리) in one way or another. The word is frequently used when asking someone to do something “ppalli haeyo” (빨리 해요) or to come over “ppalli wayo” (빨리 와요). “Ppalli” basically means ‘quickly’ or ‘hurry up’, and the term “ppalli ppalli” refers to a culture where a fast-paced lifestyle is embraced. The love for haste is strong and things are done in a blink of an eye, from eating to putting up a thirty-story building. “Ppalli ppalli” has become a defining feature of the Korean society, and one of the cornerstones of the Miracle on the Han River (the transformation into an economic powerhouse). However, is the “ppalli ppalli” culture still as strongly embedded in the Korean-way of life or is this love for fast pace slowly being replaced by the desire for a slower and quieter lifestyle?
One of the most prominent symbols of the “ppalli ppalli” culture is the thousands of food delivery motorcyclists you will see walking the streets of Seoul. No matter what you crave and no matter where you live, the food will be by your doorstep quite soon.. In restaurants, food is on the table just after a couple of minutes and following a quick meal people are off to the next task. “Getting things done” seem to hang over the entire society as a life motto. Even weddings are quick affairs – most of them lasting a couple of hours. This goes for construction and infrastructure as well. Entire cities have been put up in a couple of years and the 428km long Gyeongbu Expressway was finished after just 2 years and five months! (1).
Public Wi-Fi is offered all over Seoul and with one of the fastest internet speeds in the world, everything is available at any time of the day. It truly is a dynamic country where things change at the speed of internet. One day there is a BBQ-restaurant at the corner, and the next day there is a coffee shop. The high-speed industrialization and fast advancement of technology have become the norm and the rest of society are following. This mantra of “ppalli ppalli” was not, however, introduced with high-speed internet. The taste for haste surged after president Park Chung Hee pushed for fast-moving industrialization in the 1960’s. Industrialization which brought about the Miracle on the Han River (1). Apparently, he liked getting things done quickly and would reward companies that finished projects and construction before they were scheduled (2).
Even though the Republic of Korea is on the fast track when it comes to technology and infrastructure, one should be careful to solely rely on simple terms such as “ppalli ppalli” to describe an entire culture. For while the term is frequently used by foreigners to describe the Republic of Korea, Koreans themselves not necessarily use it to describe themselves (1). However, there has in recent years been a nation-wide discussion about work-life balance. The goal of this is to provide people with less working time and more leisure time, more time to relax. It seems like Koreans are trying to slow things down in search of tranquilization. Some are to a greater extent rejecting the big city life and several celebrities have moved to the southern part of the island Jeju, where life is slower and quieter. This includes pop star Lee Hyori who together with her husband showcased their simple lifestyle in their reality show “Hyori’s bed and breakfast” (1).
While some are still embracing fast delivery and instant noodles, others are seeking something different, maybe with the same internet speed but not in sprint. The “ppalli ppalli” culture might be challenged. However, in a dynamic country like the Republic of Korea, rapid changes occur every day and it might as well be the case that this trend of slowing things down is over before you realize it.