I can often be found wandering this country, speaking to random people in an attempt to practice my Korean, 한국어. And because of this, I end up having conversations with such a huge disconnect that I can’t help but laugh. So here are my top five “lost in translation” moments.
While at lunch, my Korean friend complained about the area having too many love motels. (Korea is known for its abundance of love motels. And they are exactly what the name implies, a place people go to do the dirty. Keep in mind homes in Korea generally have more than one generation living in them, so sometimes this is a way of getting privacy. But also they can be used for prostitution.) The topic love motels eventually lead to affairs and infidelity. But my friend couldn’t think of the English word for infidelity. She speaks pretty good English but every once in a while she has to look words up. So she plugged the Korean word for infidelity into an app on her phone and the English definition it gave was “immoral conduct with a liaison.” She couldn’t pronounce liaison, so I pronounced it for her. But somehow during this exchange I lead her to believe liaison means prostitute! So for the rest of the conversation about the love motels (and it went on for longer that you’d expect) she used ‘liaison’ when she meant prostitute!
Wanna learn more about prostitution in Korea?
2. 애교 or aegyo
I was at dinner with a Korean friend when she asked if I “did lots of 애교 to my Husband.” I was confused, and honestly, it sounded dirty, so I just told her I didn’t understand. She typed it into a translator app, thinking we could easily remedy this lapse in communication. Turns out it wasn’t that easy. 애교 literally translates literally to ‘lovely’ but that’s not really the full definition. Eventually, I texted a friend who is fluent in both hangug-eo (Korean) and English (yeong-eo) and she explained 애교 fully. This youtube video does a better job explaining it than I ever could. Basically it’s just being adorable to show affection or get something you want.
Making plans via text message can get a little tricky with the language barrier. But as crazy as the conversation below seems, I am proud to say we did end up successfully planing a dinner date, to which we both showed up at the right place at the right time! Christina-1 Language barrier-0
4. May I have you?
I met a girl on the subway who spoke pretty good English but often fumbled with the verbs. We made small talk for about ten minutes and then she asked “May I have you?” I was so confused. Have me do what, or for what? She said it several times motioning between us and I finally asked, “oh, you want to be friends?” She was relieved I understood and we exchanged phone numbers.
5. Crock pot
Apparently, the concept of a slow cooker is as foreign to Koreans as most Korean foods are to Americans. I explained it several times and was laughed at each time. I said, “Oh you just put whatever you want to cook in there and leave it for 7 or 8 hours and then its ready to eat.” My Korean friends were baffled. They said, “Christina cooks for 7 hours?!” I kept correcting them, saying that it only took a few minutes of prep time and then I just let the slow cooker do the work, but I’m not sure they ever fully understood. Throughout the afternoon jokes were made about me cooking for such long periods of time.
Bonus Korean Experience:
Parking in Korea is creative. It’s one of those “the rules are there are no rules” kind of things. Which is both extremely annoying and often very convenient. So when my husband and I went to pay rent at the realty office, he pulled the car off to the side of the road and left me there while he ran inside. Yes, the car was in the middle of the road but this is pretty standard in Korea. So when a taxi behind our car couldn’t get around and started honking I didn’t know what to do. I don’t drive in Korea, and I was scared to even try. Just to moving the car down the street seems simple, but I don’t have a license in Korea and I’m not on the insurance. So I waved apologetically and tried to convey that I couldn’t drive. Next thing I know, the passenger from the Taxi is in MY car, driving up the street and out of the way. I swear, she just got in the car and moved it. By the time I realized what was happening, it was over.