Be Ware: If You Say 안녕하세요, Everyone Will Think You Speak Korean

Authored by:
Shari S.

Shari S.

Be Ware: If You Say 안녕하세요, Everyone Will Think You Speak Korean

One of the things I worried about most in studying in Korea was that I would never practice my Korean because of the strong influences that English has here. Let's just say, I had nothing to worry about.

What I have appreciated most about Korea is that most people will assume whatever language you speak to them. If I walk into an establishment and greet a worker with "안녕하세요!", they will begin speaking to me in Korean as they would any other Korean customer. Now, this might not sound like anything special, but I am very obviousy not Korean, and so I thought that most would assume English around me. I have really long curly hair, full eyebrows, and dress distinctly American. I know that no one is confusing me for a native Korean. So, you can understand why I was so pleasantly surprised that people were speaking to me so confidently in Korean!

When this happens, I try my best to keep up and respond in (very broken) Korean. Coming here, I knew the easiest and most respectful way for me to approach interactions was to speak Korean to the best of my ability, and never to assume that anyone speaks English. When I have struggled or needed more extensive help, I have been lucky to come across those who are willing to try their hand at speaking English. 

My roommate and I had one funny interaction with a young boy working at a coffee shop. We walked into this coffee shop, and were the only foreignrs there. When we walked up to the counter, the barista was a boy about nineteen years old, and he was practically shaking in his boots. The poor thing was so obviously anxious over the fact that we were foreigners in his coffee shop, and was probably worried he would need to interact with us in English. As my roommate walked up to him to order her drink, we saw a literal drip of sweat slide down his forehead. I could see the boy visibly sigh as my roomate said in her sweet Korean "바닐라 라떼 주세요" (vanilla latte please). I went next and also ordered in Korean, but the poor guy was so overwhelmed! It hurt my heart, becuase it made me think of how many times a foreigner has walked into this coffee shop and given him a hard time, expecting him to be able to speak English with them.

Moral of the story: If you're traveling to Korea, try and learn at least enough Korean to order your latte, just to save a sweet Korean boy from any anxiety attacks at his minimum wage job.

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