Friday, June 1, 2007

It's Your Possible!

I should preface this entry by saying that in no way do I intend to ridicule the Korean people for their rather unorthodox application and interpretation of the English language. As I look back on the three months I've spent in this country, I find it pleasantly ironic that I was initially wild with frustration at my inability to communicate with Seoul-ites; in fact, I now consider the language barrier to be one of the most hilarious and winsome features of Korea.

Firstly, allow me to boast foolishly about my own acquired language skills. Basically, I understand and can reciprocate the ubiquitous “aneyhaseo!” and “aneghaseo” (hello and good bye, respectively) that are literally sung at you upon entering and exiting any kind of store. The unmistakable sing-song melody of these phrases has made me think of them, for all intents and purposes, as a short and cheery Korean national anthem. I’ve also mastered the extremely important “kamsa hamnida” (thank you) as well as “saranghae” (I love you), the catch phrase of many a Korean pop ballad. Korean pop ballad.

I do realize that my command of four phrases of their language doesn’t exactly give me license to critique Koreans’ English skills, but since I am so enamored of their English gaffes and gaucheries, they deserve a discussion on my blog. As a Scrabble enthusiast, a subscriber to’s “Word of the Day,” and one who listens to National Public Radio’s Sunday Puzzle, I consider myself somewhat of a wordsmith, so I was infuriated at my first exposure to the Koreans’ perversion of English on everything from t-shirts to restroom signs. I mean, does anybody check for grammar or spelling?! It could be likened to the countless Americans who get those trendy tattoos of Chinese characters and invariably claim that they mean “love” or “peace” or some other enlightened concept.
Soon, though, I realized that there was a hidden sweetness to the flubbed locution, as if I were reading a secret code; I was probably one of the only people around who could get the joke, find the humor. In fact, I have discovered many an uplifting phrase and inspirational message among the jumbled words, and I have come to read them almost like poetry. Maybe you will understand as I share a few of my favorites, though Microsoft Word will go nuts underlining everything in green…

• Take a balances in work and love! (Sage advice found on a cartoon-illustrated to-do list)

• I like languid afternoon window, PM 2:00 and you. (Greeting card message)

• Life is biscuit case. (Notebook cover... profound, n'est-ce pas?)

• Make yourself as a professional with good idea in your hand. It’s your possible! (My new red leather-bound notepad with pen included)

• For your well-being life. (The indication stamped on any food or product touted as healthy)

• Spring come rain fall. (The name of my favorite stationary store)

• Keep a green tree in your heart for free dream. (T-shirt)

• Birds are flying in the niceish forest. (On a lunch box painted with tiny doves)

• Kindly note: I don’t look for girl friend or sort of lover. I would like make new friend and broaden my horizons. (Korean businessman who approached after seeing me in a cafĂ©)

• Special food for the skin to eat to maintain our bodies lively. (Cosmetics company advertisement)

• Let's get out here, girl! May you being happy travel! (Passport carry-case)

• Our effort on little details will help you create peaceful, harmonious family life and share pleasant conversations. (Bakery wrapper)

You get the picture, huh? The real hub of cute, albeit erroneous English was the designer stationary shop, of which there were many. They feature a multitude of paper products, wallets, pins, trinkets, jewelry, teacups, and all manner of creative yet trivial things. Some of my favorite designers were Red Cloudy, Milimeter/Miligram, O-check Designs, Iconic Dream, and Monopoly. Even the names are adorable, and coupled with bright colors, childish illustrations, charming characters, and, of course, linguistic faux pas, I fell madly in love. Whether or not it was true, I got the feeling that many of the companies had been small, independent groups of artists and art students, as their products maintained a page-torn-out-of-the-coloring-book humble simplicity.