Coffee has become an essential part of the daily lives of Koreans. Each Korean drank 288 cups of coffee in 2008, based on the amount of coffee beans that were imported that year. But elderly Koreans, who cannot speak English, as well as some younger Koreans who are not yet au fait with the coffee jargon, say ordering the beverage is strange and difficult.
"Coffee is imported, so we cannot do anything about the names," says one man in his 60s. "But why are the sizes classified as 'short' or 'tall' in English?" he said. "I'm a university graduate and have lived without any problems until now. I never imagined I'd end up getting nervous ordering coffee."
Okay, okay. As one who has written that signs in Koreatown and Little Saigon should be accessible to people who only speak the dominant language (which is English if you're in Orange County, for the time being at least), I can sympathize with this up to a point:
An office worker in his 30s said, "When I order coffee, I wonder whether I'm in Korea or America, hearing all the words that are used mixing English and Korean." One Internet portal even posted advice on how to avoid humiliation in coffee shops. "Just ask for 'original' coffee if the shop worker keeps using strange words," one advice reads. At Starbucks in Korea, milk is the only item written in Korean on a menu listing around 50 different drinks.Oh, boo hoo! If this is what you're complaining about then... Oh, right. I promised to be more sympathetic. Sorry.
Stress levels began rising in the mid-1990s when so-called "family" restaurant chains began to pop up in Korea. T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigans, Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants featured menus in English, or words created by mixing Korean and English.Um... I was living in Seoul at that time, and I'm pretty sure that stress levels began to rise when the economy collapsed. I think that's when people took a look around and noticed all the foreign-sounding family restaurants and said, "Holy sh¡t! I've got to blame someone for this mess, and you guys are easy targets."
The problem gets worse when it comes to children's snacks. According to a study by a newspaper last year, 54.6 percent of 449 different snacks in production had names that included foreign words. Only 31.2 percent of the snacks had purely Korean names.Pardon me for making lemonade out of lemons, but wouldn't the preponderance of Roman characters on their fish puffs cause little kids to become accustomed to seeing those strange letters and thus make them less intimidated by them when they encounter them in school? Or it that familiarity breeds contempt?
But children and teens who are loyal customers of the snacks do not look favorably upon the foreign names. Eight students at Doseong Elementary School in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province sent a letter in 2007 to the heads of confectioners asking them to use Korean names. The petition drew support from around 1,000 people after it was posted on an Internet portal.Guess whose sŏnsaengnim is part of the chinboista teachers union. Can you guess? Can you guess?
At about the same time, a survey of third- and fourth-graders in elementary school showed that 79 percent favored Korean names for snacks, saying they sounded more familiar and made it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.Unless they're writing "fattening," "rots your teeth," "excessive consumption now will cause heart problems later in life," "would be considered animal abuse if fed to your pet," etc., in Korean, then I am skeptical that such labeling does actually make it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.
Korean language experts say we may end up thinking that it is only natural for products to have foreign names. This perception becomes ingrained as we become adults and create stereotypes that favor foreign words and developing disdain for our own words.Forcing people to use "our own words" while simultaneously feeding them a narrative that causes them to feel that their own language and culture is under relentless assault because 0.5% of the national lexicon is not originally "our own words" is a sure-fire way to get them to feel disdain.