Pop Culture & Society
Pop Culture: Piggyback Rides
by | July 11, 2010 | 208 Comments


My Name is Kim Sam-soon

Hey, girlfriday here to kick off a new series that we’re doing, to call attention to some of the recurring motifs in kdramaland, by way of pop culture. Topics will range from cultural bits of Koreanness, to drama tropes, folktales, to things we simply find amusing or interesting, in tv/film/music. It’s intentionally broad, so that we can keep it free and loose, and we invite you to ask questions about things you’ve always wondered about, like why people in dramas always take out their cell phone batteries. (Answer: It’s a more dramatic action onscreen than pressing the OFF button, which is visually ambiguous.)

We thought long and hard about the inaugural post, and realized, of course, that it had to start with the mother of all drama tropes: The Piggyback Ride.


Iris

To discuss the piggyback ride, we have to start with a few things about Koreans: 1) drinking culture, and 2) skinship.

Koreans are like the Irish of the East. We drink. A lot. So it’s not really an exaggeration to see characters in dramas being socially pressured to drink, or killing multiple bottles of soju over one meal, especially after being dumped, fired, belittled, or otherwise trampled upon like any regular day in a kdrama heroine’s life.

That said, it is of course a drama trope to see characters literally pass out from drinking all the time. I’m sure if normal people did this on a daily basis, their mothers would have a thing or two to say.

“Skinship” is a made-up Korean-English word (used in Korea, not in the States) meaning levels of physical intimacy, or more simply, touching. Skinship can range from handholding to kissing, to sex, and people use it colloquially to ask how far things went. Example: GF: “I went on a date last night.” JB: “Was there any skinship?” GF: “Just the PG-13 kind.”


You’re Beautiful

Skinship has its own name precisely because it’s something to write home about. Touching, between adults and of a romantic nature, is a big deal. Now, I don’t mean Koreans are prudes. Far from it. I just mean publicly, culturally, Koreans are very aware of boundaries, politeness, and proprietary mores. People don’t go kissing each other on the cheek, for example. It’s just a matter of cultural difference. The result is, then, that touching means something.

The most common piggyback scenario is the classic I’m-too-drunk-so-will-you-be-my-knight-in-shining-armor-and-carry-me-home. Every drama has it, and every romantic comedy hero earns his stripes this way. Can you imagine drama hero bootcamp? Carry a 90 lb. actress on your back for two hours! Now drag her by the wrist! Practice your kiss! Sir yes sir!


The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry

If the piggyback comes early in the relationship, then almost always, drinking is involved. If one party is drunk and unconscious, then the other party isn’t hugging her—he’s merely being a gentleman and a hero. No, really! No butt-grabbing or anything, scout’s honor.

The piggyback is, in essence, an excuse for skinship, seemingly of the most harmless kind. Because it’s wrapped in a pretty bow of manly honor and a display of alpha male strength, it earns extra points for making women round the world swoon, thinking why can’t my boyfriend do that?

In practical terms, dramas need excuses for physical closeness. Especially if your characters are still in the You Suck Phase, as in My Name is Kim Sam-soon, above. So drinks plus piggyback ride is pretty much the go-to device, to force your characters to pass one level of skinship. It’s a tried and true squee-inducing method, especially if the characters still hate each other.


Personal Taste

Beyond the standard drinking and excuse for skinship, piggybacks are a direct callback to a little girl’s relationship with her father. Don’t worry; I’m not going to go all Freudian on you. I don’t mean it in an icky way. But don’t think that fiction in a patriarchal society doesn’t reflect the values that are deemed to be right in that culture.

Piggyback rides in essence infantilize women to equate them with little girls, and paternalize men, to equate them with fathers. In Personal Taste Kae-in makes a direct comparison between Jin-ho’s back and her father’s, and throughout that drama he carries her as a substitute for her father, or lack thereof. In dramas the piggyback ride is shorthand now for all of the above. It’s an intentional association to make the hero appear safe, trustworthy, secure…like a father.


Coffee Prince

In some dramas, notably ones like Coffee Prince where gender roles are played with, the device can be turned on its head. Han-kyul is actually the lightweight drinker, and Eun-chan piggybacks him all over town.

But once she outs herself as a woman, no surprise—the gender roles go right back to the norm.


Coffee Prince

Whether you see piggyback rides as your ultimate fantasy or a nefarious plot to take over the world is up to you. While riding piggyback doesn’t really appeal to me personally, I do see why it’s a staple in dramas. It’s a simple gesture, but loaded with romantic ideals and warm paternal associations. It eliminates the need to say to your audience: this is a caring, sweet, warm man, underneath the gruff exterior. The piggyback does it all, with some skinship to boot.

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208 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. CapitalScandalRocks

    LOL I was waiting for it……………….THANKS

     (0)


  2. rainey

    I look for it in every single drama, and without fail…it happens.

     (0)


  3. ambs

    now what i want to see is a collage of every piggyback in kdrama history!! muahhahah *manical laughter* i kid. and i’ve only watched like six dramas or something so i wouldn’t recognize most of them =[

     (0)


  4. kaedejun

    ooooooh NICE! i like this cultural-isms. KEEP THEM COMING!!!!
    :D

     (0)


  5. splgt001

    “Whether you see piggyback rides as your ultimate fantasy or a nefarious plot to take over the world is up to you.”

    LOL – thanks GF!

     (0)


  6. wulanastasiaz

    i think i’m going to rewatch coffee prince tonight.. euchan piggyback hangyul is so cute.. xiixiixixiixi…

     (0)


  7. Molly

    Great post, girlfriday! But why must Hyun Bin be unattractive in that picture? Sob.

     (0)


  8. Startulle

    Thank u , GF!…i love to learn more about korean culture! since i come from a culture that hugging and kissing people around u its so common and natural. Im not saying doing this to every strangers!!! But being so addicted to K-dramas i miss all the skinship between the hot couples, hehehehe!…

     (0)


  9. Infiniti512

    I cant get into the piggyback for one reason….I AM NOT A CHILD!!!

    Although it’s cute to watch and I ry to calculate when it will appear in each drama I watch, it’s just for fairytales haha.

     (0)


  10. 10 imel

    so sweet….

     (0)


  11. 11 krooxy

    is it sad that I felt so proud to recognize all of the images you used except for one? xD

     (0)


  12. 12 christine

    Yes, we have been noticing as well but of course you put it together better. Like @3 we would also like to see a collage of all the recurring motifs.

    Many thanks and also looking forward to your recapping of korean version of ISWAK.

     (0)


  13. 13 langdon813

    Great post!! Drama hero bootcamp, I love it!

    And skinship is such a wonderful word. We all need to start using it more often so that it becomes part of the American vernacular.

     (0)


  14. 14 Ladymoonstone143

    Now I know why there is always a piggyback ride on majority of the kdramas I saw..:)) Thanks girlfriday for the explanation. And I really love this new series because there are so many things that I see in every kdrama and I was like…why do they always do that for? :))

     (0)


  15. 15 Liesel

    Love piggy-back rides! Although I don’t remember any in WUAS, or am I wrong?
    Anyway, I’ve seen piggy backs where both persons are neither drunk nor stoned, but they’re rare. Random examples are be strong geum soon (M carries W to cheer her up), or when heroine’s shoe heel come off, or heroine is sick and needs to go to the hospital (why not call a taxi and get there faster? i don’t know).

    Looking forward to more articles on kdrama tropes, thanks!

     (1)


  16. 16 nycgrl

    I spent one of my teen summers in one of those korean “cultural immersion” programs and I got so stinking drunk with Gin and Tonic at a group drink outting and I passed out drunk due to drinking on an empty stomach (I was then 16 and dumb) and the boy who I had a big crush on piggy backed me all the way back to our dorm up this huge sloping hill that seemingly only exists in korea and SF. And how did I thank him for his herculean/chivalrous effort? Yes by throwing up all over his nice warm back.

     (4)


    • 16.1 themuse0

      Fantastic! I love it…you cannot think of it without laughing can you..the best and worst thing that could happen all at once. I would watch that drama if you wrote it. :-)

       (0)


  17. 17 pabo ceo reom

    I love this series already! Good job GF…… (although I hate the term skinship….so awkward…)

     (0)


    • 17.1 yenlinh tran

      You are so right, “Skinship” is an awkward term depicting “Touchy-Feely” acts.

       (0)


  18. 18 ockoala

    @ nycgrl

    I simply must hear the unredacted version of that awesomesauce story. So in addition to drama mirroring real life (Jin Ho rubbing Kae In’s tummy like your hubs did for you), now you are mirroring drama life in your youth. Niiiice. So. Jealous.

    Yes, I am indeed jealous that you got to barf all over the guy you had a crush on. Frankly, that relationship, if it ever got started, had a low probability of being anything more than a summer fling and/or young love, But by barfing all over him, and being piggybacked to precipitate said barfing, you’ve singlehandledly made this a memorable story beyond “I dated my 16 year old crush.” :-D

    @ girlfriday – thanks for a wonderful cultural lesson. No one, I repeat, no one gets piggybacked in Chinese culture. I think guys sling us over their shoulders or something. At least that’s what the hero did to the lady he rescued in the movie Painted Skin. Which was exceeding sexy, but probably very uncomfortable.

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  19. 19 birdscout

    Wonderful idea for a running series of pop culture “lessons”. Love the piggyback device. I never thought about the little girl-father angle, but it makes sense. Your post is so much fun to read, and I actually learned a bit more of my cultural background. Thank you, girlfriday!

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  20. 20 OhBobbi

    I have been a Dramabeans lurker for, oh, probably 2-3 years now (probably soon after I accidentally got addicted to “Jumong” in early 2007). I LOVE this website and I’m so grateful to javabeans and girlfriday and folks like Samsooki for all their time and dedication to this site. There are 4 sites I check routinely everyday: my email, facebook, twitter, and Dramabeans. But I’ve never posted ’til now. :-)

    Anyway, I loved this post. I’m always joking with my family about the k-drama piggyback thing (yes, my whole family watches k-dramas). However, I tell my family that when I go to Korea and meet my chaebol prince* I will have to carry him on my back instead of the other way around (yay for being a non-drinker and a large-boned European girl)!

    So, thanks for the great post (and all the great posts). I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the removing-the-batteries thing. That’s another thing my family jokes about a lot. I’ve asked several Koreans if that is something commonly done in real life, and they’ve all said ‘no,’ as I recall.

    Oh, and here’s a suggestion for a future pop culture discussion: Christmas in k-dramas. My mom and I joke that it’s “always Christmas in Korea,” because it seems that so many scenes in k-dramas feature Christmas trees in the background. Is it just the dramas I’m watching or has anyone else noticed this?
    ____________
    *which I will, of course, because I know from watching dramas that Korea is overflowing with handsome chaebol heirs…I’m sure I’ll see one on every street corner, carrying some poor, passed-out girl on his back…

     (1)


  21. 21 Apple A day

    I love this post! and the screenshots! reading this takes me back to those scenes from the drama . sigh. ;-)

    I’m not Korean, but I am Asian and I love it when my boyfriend gives me piggyback rides. although, it’s usually only for fun, not because I got drunk .

     (0)


    • 21.1 yenlinh tran

      My husband said he would not even try to piggy back me. I was too heavy for him and he would get hurt.

       (0)


  22. 22 Dele

    I have to say watching k-dramas has really made me want to experience the piggy-back ride from a significant other, but at the same time I find it really awkward and embarrasing to be carried around like that. I guess we can always do it in private:)…yeah. I think piggy-back rides are cute.

    Can you please do a post on the levels of skinship…I think that would be hilarious:)!!!! Whenever people say that around me in Seoul I can’t help put giggle…I’ve been surprised by the amount of PDA I see in Seoul especially on the subways. It’s usually middle-high school students though, and I just roll my eyes at there vomit-inducing overly affectionate behavior.

    Loving all these series you two are coming up with.
    GF—I love how zippy your writing is, its like a nice breeze and easy to navigate through:)

     (0)


  23. 23 tinysunbl

    Haha I’m so happy you included the Woman Who Still Wants to Marry and Eun-chan to Han Kyul Coffee Prince piggybacks! Two of my favorites!
    Two more cheap tricks for piggyback ride, beside drinking, would be ankle spraining for kdrama fragile damsels or tripping only to have a 9996749$$$ heel broken for the kdrama princesses.

     (0)


  24. 24 leila8mae

    for me, there really is something special whenever i see piggyback in any kdrama.. it always make any couple look sweet.. even w/o intention of it.. I guess, its just the first thing that comes to mind..

    drinking session is a norm, like they never run out of suju in any drama.. I’ve had dinner in a Korean resto w/ my friends and enjoyed bottles of Suju.. it is best when shared!! ♥

     (0)


  25. 25 gia

    ksa, the most cutie one… miss her

     (0)


  26. 26 pv

    awww….i love the piggyback rides in kdramas. oh how i want a piggyback ride too. (;

     (0)


  27. 27 Alison

    i would love it if you guys go into the whole cinderella like romantic tying of the shoe moment. yes i get it, it’s from one of the most romantic fairy tales of the world but a guy helping me tie my shoelaces does not make my heart go pitter pat.

     (0)


  28. 28 Porcelain

    Omg… I love this… Thanks GF for this article… its like the basis of dating in K-drama… And I like… Skinship… kya…

    If piggyback earn an actor a stripe, Hyun Bin earns it twice, coz apart from carrying Samsoon, he also carried Bora in Snow Queen too, drunk and singing that she is Candy…

    Just like HK movies where most actors by the time they “made it” they would have played a police and a gangster with a heart of gold in their career…

    On this pop-culture education would you guys suggest doing one on feeding? Yes, feeding… I see a lot of feeding in K-dramas and inspire to do that with my future man, but if my mom were to feed me now, I think being an adult, I will probably like “no, stop, what are you trying to do!?”

    I remember how touched Go Jun Pyo was when Jandi’s mom feed him with fish she peeled/deboned… coz his mom never did that for him… he find it disgusting initially, but love every bite and bits to it till the end…

    Idea for another piece?

     (0)


  29. 29 Snikki

    “Skinship” is a Korean made-up term? That is why… I’ve used it in a couple of occasions during casual conversations with friends; no wonder they don’t know what I was talking about.

     (0)


  30. 30 Lisa

    I like this new series! I’ve been watching dramas for about….hrm….5? years now and I always wondered about the ‘drunk blundering piggyback rides’ haha.

    In the future, could you explain the “kiss” scenes we see so often? (i.e. leads standing about a foot a part from each other and having their lips touch and lock in place while the camera spins around them lol)….why don’t most dramas kiss..like…passionately? (i.e. Coffee Prince!)…that always kills the mood for me!

    Also, can someone explain that one card game I see in a lot of dramas? Coffee House had a scene with it I think in like…episode 10?

    Thankss!

     (0)


  31. 31 nycgrl

    @Ockoala

    I’ll give you the full version sometime. He actually went to your alma mater. I find a lot of things in kdramas stem from real life since where would the writers source some of their material except real life?

    For example the stomach rubbing thing is accompanied by a song (kind of like a nursery rhyme) and my hubby sings that exact same song because he learned it from his mom who used to sing the song while rubbing his tummy when he was a little kid.

     (0)


  32. 32 lenrasoon

    i always asked myself since i started watching kdramas 4 years ago, why people in dramas always take out their cell phone batteries? lol i’m so glad you answered.

    about the piggyback rides i’ve seen so much that doesn’t move me anymore, but i loved the Coffee Prince piggyback because it was different and funny watching Eun-chan carrying a guy.

     (0)


  33. 33 Porcelain

    ^ all above refering to Coffee Prince…

    It just trigger my memory and I recall the conversation went something like this;

    Butcher Ahjusshi: Eun Chan ah… what are you carrying?!
    Eun Chan : *breathless*
    Butcher Ahjusshi: I am carrying a pig!!!

    Regardless how many times I rewatch, I still laugh at how nonchalant that cute ahjushi is… its like he wanted to ask Eun Chan if she needs space and he can like chuck Han Gyul inside his freezer!

     (1)


  34. 34 cing104

    i can tell i’ll be addicted to reading these pop culture articles. more please!

     (0)


  35. 35 cheanne

    Thank you for this segment……This not only fills our korean addiction but it also widens our understanding of korean culture. Some repetetive scenes may be normal to a korean but to us its different, through this we are informed and the more we can appreciate kdramas…….I love it!!!!

    I wonder what could be your next topic……hehe……looking forward to it…..

     (0)


  36. 36 kdramaluv

    Funny article Javabeans. But I’m curious….. does it happen a lot in real life? Has anyone seen girls passed out drunk with guys piggybacking them in Korea?

     (0)


  37. 37 Sushi

    piggyback rides aren’t as romantic as they seem :3 i always end up feeling sorry and ashamed about my weight when i end up in that kind of situation… lol. i guess if your boyfriend comes right out of a trashy romantic novel with a ripped body they can handle the weight, but my boyfriend is skinny and he buckles under my weight. ._. ashamed.

     (0)


  38. 38 sno

    THank you..thank you. I really enjoyed reading your micro analysis on skinship and piggyback ride. Who would have thought that piggyback ride = skinship? I didn’t.
    so, in Korea, you don’t see real couples kissing in public then? I wonder if public display of affection can be misinterpreted as “they have slept together”.

    One time I watched a Korean variety show where the guy was supposed to kiss this lady on her cheek. He was so shy that it took multiple attempts before he landed his lips on her cheek. At the time I didn’t understand him..why is it so difficult to kiss on cheek? I thought he was just being a wimp.

     (0)


    • 38.1 Literati

      It is kinda. Like older more traditional people will be all O.o they are touching she is scandalized. And even some conservative youngsters will shy away from public touching. It’s just like the past in the US (the 50′s) I guess, where it was something that good girls didn’t do.

       (0)


  39. 39 what is

    Thanks for the pop culture lesson!! This is very useful in understanding Korean culture and etiquette.

    I have a question… why do korean people in dramas use their fingers to touch their tongue and then touch their nose? It seems like they do this whenever they’re nervous about something? But I’m curious to know where this came from.

    And I’ve been told by some of my friends that Koreans, for the most part are very fashion/brand name conscious. Is that true?

    I’d love to know the answers to those!

     (0)


  40. 40 l1lskyl1l

    i never consider the piggyback rides as anything but from reading this it’s so true. also thanks for explaining why the actors just don’t push the ‘off’ button on their cells. so true about how it does make a more dramatic scene to take out the battery.

    i love this line from this blog “Carry a 90 lb. actress on your back for two hours! Now drag her by the wrist! Practice your kiss! Sir yes sir!”

    thanks for writing this, i think this is very useful for people who are just starting to watch korean dramas.

    keep up the good work =D

     (0)


    • 40.1 Jenny

      They don’t take out the batteries to make it look more dramatic…? xD
      I used to do it all the time, long before I even knew about the existence of kdramas, it’s a way to disconnect yourself EMOTIONALLY. They take off the battery to feel more distant from the person who’s trying to contact them. Other times, for example, when they’re going through rough times and many people are trying to contact them, it’s yet again an emotional way of shutting down the whole world completely. I don’t know if you get it but when you find yourself in a similar situation, instead of turning off your phone, take out the batteries and you’ll understand the sense of relief I’m talking about.

       (0)


  41. 41 xiaoSxin

    actually GF it is my fantasy to have someone give me a piggyback ride if I get drunk.. the trouble is I DON”T get drunk!!!! maybe I can pretend to be drunk???? Thanks GF!

     (0)


  42. 42 Anhstein

    I simply love this post!

     (0)


  43. 43 sno

    sorry it’s me again.

    While reading about cultural differences in regards to piggyback ride, I am reminded of the time when I was offered a piggyback ride on a first date. I refused..thanks for the offer, but no need a piggyback ride. Because he insisted, I finally gave in. Because of this, I was actually mad at him the entire night haha..
    I wasn’t comfortable with skinship so early into our date night, whereas to him, it was no big deal, can’t even be considered a skinship. I am Asian, and the guy is Caucasian who later became my hubby. :-)

     (0)


  44. 44 ais

    I love this post =D
    Piggyback ride is almost a staple on K-dramas.. I’ve not seen a lot yet, but all series I’ve seen seem to have it.. I don’t like it too personally but it quite cute when executed properly on screen.

     (0)


  45. 45 rainerust

    “That said, it is of course a drama trope to see characters literally pass out from drinking all the time. I’m sure if normal people did this on a daily basis, their mothers would have a thing or two to say.”

    …Would this be the wrong time for me to admit that I thought this was normal during my university days, because of all the drinking my friends did? (I’m allergic to alcohol, so that was pretty much a no-go for me, but I had heaps of fun making up random stories of the crazy stuff my friends did while they were drunk, like trying to toast cheese. Some of which were, unfortunately, not made up. The toasted cheese set off the fire alarm at a rather chilling 3 am in the morning.)

    Great article GF!

    @ockoala There’s been some instances of piggybacking in Chinese dramas and movies, but I have to admit, this is not a move Chinese men would actually use in real life. I think most of the time they just swing the girl’s arm across their shoulder to support her if she’s drunk, which is realistic, but a bit of a let down dramatically.

     (0)


  46. 46 elaineD

    entertaining read! thanks GF!

     (0)


  47. 47 rainerust

    @39 what is

    The touch tongue-nose thing is what Koreans do when they get pins and needles (is what I was told by a Korean friend). I find it kinda cute. Along with what they do when their fingers get burnt (they hold their ears).

    …but you may need to verify this. I’m not Korean so….

     (0)


  48. 48 seraphcelene

    Thanks so much for this! I’ve been watching kdramas only very recently and there’s a lot I don’t know about Korea, so this helps immensely. Makes everything that much richer and more enjoyable. So, thanks!!!!! And keep them coming!

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  49. 49 Manz

    You will think that if someone is drunk – the other person responsible for sending him/her home would just hail a cab instead of walking for 2 hours! ….just saying

     (0)


    • 49.1 Jennifer

      That’d be impossible in my country (for example)…since there are no cabs. My boyfriend has no choice but to piggyback ride me when I get drunk because he’s under 18 (legal age to get your driver’s license) and there are NO cabs. XD
      He doesn’t really mind though…but it totally ruins the mood when he tells me to put on or lose some weight.

       (0)


  50. 50 Ani

    I miss getting piggybacked back home in Samoa. Except, now I am in the states, and surprisingly, not a lot of people here know how to piggyback, at least girls don’t. I had to teach some of the girls at my University how to give a piggyback. Weird. Than again, Samoans are built to carry, push, and various other physical things. Skinship anyone?

     (0)


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