When the Customer Experience Gets Lost in Translation

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To treat myself in Seoul, I love going to different coffee shops and sitting there for hours on end. I love getting lost in my writing or drawing among crowds of people studying or catching up with friends old and new. I usually try to save my trips to cafes for the weekends as a way of saving money on coffee during the week.

Because of my infatuation with Korean coffee shops, I managed to perfect my Korean coffee-ordering skills and can now waltz into any cafe with ease. My heart no longer beats uncontrollably when it’s almost my turn to order and I’m not scared of making mistakes. These ordering interactions are also a way to improve my language skills should our coffee-ordering dialogue go off-kilter.

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‘So what does this have to do with customer experiences and translations?’ What a great question! Let’s discuss…

Occasionally, my Korean cafe trance is interrupted when a sales assistant at the other end of my aforementioned coffee-ordering dialogue responds to me… in English. Meaning: I’ve said ‘Korean Korean Korean’, only to then receive a response in English. ‘So’, I hear you ask, ‘what is so bad about this and why is it so concerning to you that you’ve written an entire dissertation (this blog post) about it?’

Living in a foreign country and sticking out like a sore Australian thumb has many challenges. I know that having people speak to me in English is a gesture of goodwill. I personally think that it is amazing that so many Korean people can speak English and are very willing to make foreigners feel at ease. However, pouring my heart out to someone by ordering a coffee in my very best Korean feels a little bit embarrassing when I am met with a response in English. This fuels the daily anxiety I feel as someone who has been living in Korea for over a year and has a rather long, never-ending way to go with their Korean language skills.

‘Okay, but where does the customer experience part come in? So what if you feel inadequate and angsty, we all do?’

As someone who slaved her university days as a customer service worker in both hospitality and retail, I am all too familiar with the language of good service. How to greet people, how to make people feel like they’re the most important customer in the world etc. It wasn’t a skill I was very good at, to begin with, but over time I improved my communication skills and my confidence in interacting with customers from all walks of life.

After several years of working jobs that I hated, I, in turn, became highly sensitive to customer service everywhere I went. Having experienced it myself, I became more aware of the struggles customer service workers face and gained a newfound respect for dish hands, Uber drivers, bartenders and everyone else in between. I started to show increasing respect to the workers who were kind and welcoming to me which made me want to be a regular customer.

With a bad experience, on the other hand, I would usually try and avoid ever going there again. That may sound petty, but living in Melbourne, there were plenty of places for me to buy a coffee, sandwich or a pair of shoes. Once you’ve worked the Christmas shifts in a retail shopping centre, you learn how to be polite to people with literally zero effort. It becomes a role that you must play to survive. It’s not that hard to be polite to someone who just wants a pair of jeans that won’t sag around her butt.

So, again… what does language have to do with your customer experience? Well, it’s not so much the use of English that I have a problem with, it’s the way the English is used that can dampen the experience.

Let’s say I ask for a hot latte in Korean (you always have to specify if you want a hot or cold drink in Korea which is a whole other blog post right there, the ‘assume hot unless otherwise stated’ rule doesn’t apply here). I’m standing there in front of the cash register, thinking my Korean skills are award-winning and I await a response from the sales assistant. If they then reply with a ‘hot?’, or a ‘take out?’, in English, this is where my fury ignites. Not only have I just spoken to them in Korean, and they have understood me, they feel it necessary to confirm my order in a different language. A language that they assume I speak because of the way I look.

I would be grateful for this as a traveller, but as somebody who now calls Korea their home, it feels disheartening. Furthermore, the English being used is usually formed as one or two-worded sentences. This can really negatively impact the customer experience, especially if you are like me and you are eagerly trying to improve your language skills. Let’s compare the English dialogue of a one to two worded sentence with a sentence used by customer service workers in a native English speaking country:

‘Hot?’ vs ‘Would you like that hot or cold?’

‘Take out?’ vs ‘Did you want that for here or to go?’

‘Membership?’ vs ‘Are you a member with us? Would you like to sign up?’

‘For here?’ vs ‘Whereabouts are you sitting? Did you want to have that here?’

‘Bag?’ vs ‘Do you need a bag? Will you be needing a bag?’

Korean is a complex language with many forms of honorifics, it is relatively easy to offend someone by accidentally talking down to them in casual form. As a language learner, I am taught to speak Korean politely in any given context. It’s the best way to avoid offending somebody because ‘when in doubt, be polite’.

English, on the other hand, does not have these same language rules. The nuances of being polite in English is something that can’t be taught easily with formulas or sentence patterns. When students learn English, they don’t learn levels of politeness the way learners of honorific languages such as Korean and Japanese do. Your teacher might correct you by simply saying ‘this way might sound a bit more polite’ or ‘that is considered rude in English’.

For example, when I was working as an English here in South Korea, I corrected my students any time they used words like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’. I told them they are not real words and they are only used by lazy people (I know, I’m literally the worst person but I wanted my students to annunciate, sue me). With younger students who simply yelled ‘teacher, bathroom’, I never let them go to the bathroom until the practiced saying ‘Teacher, may I go to the bathroom’. If you don’t try and break a student’s habit then and there, their cute language faux pas might stick around for the long run.

Considering this, imagine a Korean sales assistant simply saying ‘Hot?’ in Korean to a Korean customer. That customer would most likely be offended. This brash language translates as rude in English. If somebody simply said ‘hot?’ to me at a Melbourne cafe, I would probably respond with an affirmative grunt rather than give them a spoken response. Using single word responses is quite abrupt in any language. The language of customer service is very important in making the customer feel welcomed and valued for spending their $5 on a cup of hot milk.

This unnecessarily long blog post was inspired by an observation a friend and I made here in Seoul at a cafe. When she ordered her drink, they responded to her in English with one or two-word responses. When I ordered, they responded to me in Korean, which my friend overheard. She made the comment ‘wow, when they speak to you in Korean, it sounds so much more polite than when they speak to you in English’. She’s right, Korean customer service workers employ a very polite form of language because they must show respect to everybody. They wouldn’t even speak that politely to their own parents. My friend and I both shared very different experiences because of this one small language difference.

While I do appreciate people trying to speak to me in English, I always make a somewhat arrogant effort to respond in Korean. I am trying to integrate myself into this culture by speaking as much Korean as I can. I could simply respond to everyone in English because as a native speaker, it is the easier option. However, I would never improve my skills that way. I don’t want to become dependent on English and look back and wonder why I haven’t improved my language skills. I guess making such a conscious choice is the reason I am so passionate about this topic!

Furthermore, just because I am foreign, there really is no way of knowing if I speak English. South Korea attracts visitors and ex-pats from all over the world. Russia, France, Spain, Uzbekistan and America – nobody is immune to Korea fever. Are these scenarios I am describing any different from me trying to speak Chinese to an Asian-looking person in Melbourne as a cafe worker? If I did that in Melbourne, the customer would feel terrible, especially if it turned out that their mother tongue was Korean, Japanese or something not remotely similar to Chinese.

So I beg of you, if somebody, in any language or country, is trying their best to communicate with you in your native tongue, take it as an opportunity to help them, not belittle them. I have made so many mistakes from using only Korean, but those mistakes always help me grow and give me a funny story to tell my husband when I get home. Interacting in one or two words of English with somebody who is trying to learn Korean is not going to improve your English, nor will it improve their Korean. If you do want to speak English to your foreign customers, do the extra homework and improve your sentence structures. It doesn’t hurt to be too polite.

The places I do feel very grateful for English are places like immigration, hospitals, and sometimes banks. However, I recently successfully acquired a new credit card without using any English. Even if there is an opportunity to use English, I will always do my best to use Korean. I may stumble through conversations and get lost listening to native Korean, but I am always better off having tried. Having been put in that difficult position in the first place is a great way to learn, much like any other learning opportunity in life.

What do you think about this? Do you feel a little dead inside when somebody responds to your Korean in English? Or is it just me? I understand that this is quite a negative post, but I do acknowledge that many Koreans in customer service are able to communicate in English very politely. The fact that so many Koreans want to learn English and improve their skills is also somewhat miraculous. Australians should really follow suit. This was merely my observation as someone trying to call a different country their home and often feeling more and more like an alien than a local.

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Sushi and Cherry Blossoms

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Today was a day of sushi and cherry blossoms. The flowers are a’blooming and the birds are a’chirping because spring is a’coming people. The cherry blossoms are nature’s way of saying, ‘hey guys, everything will be okay’.

Cherry blossoms are like the training wheels of nature, they make us feel safe and sound before we summon the confidence to do life with only 2 wheels. After they’re gone, we forget they were even there! Before you know, we’ve smoothly made the winter to summer, heatech to humidity transition.

WHAT AM I SAYING? It was my first back working every day this week and my brain is a little soggy. All of this quarantine has made me lose the humorous edge that helped crown Jo So Ko as the internet’s best travel blog 12 years running.

Time to get some rest, but first, here is a video I made about my work life in Seoul! Check it out if you have nothing better to do ๐Ÿ™‚

My Korean husband cooks Jjapaguri from the movie ‘Parasite’

parasite-jjapaguri-sceneIf you fell in love with Bong Joon Ho’s latest film ‘Parasite’, you might be curious about some of the food that was featured in the Oscar-winning movie. At a very tense moment in the movie, the newly appointed maid to the Park family is asked to make a dish called ‘Jjapaguri’. The English translation is ‘Ram-don’ but the Korean name comes from the two different types of instant noodles that are used in the dish. To make Jjapaguri, you need these two types of instant noodles that you can buy from your local Korean supermarket:

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Jjapaghetti and Neoguri

I was curious to try the dish for myself and I’m lucky enough to have a Korean husband who knew exactly how to make it! We live in Korea so these ingredients are readily available. We wanted to keep the recipe as similar to the dish made in the film so we even added beef! (Beef is a very expensive ingredient here in South Korea! Pork is usually the favoured meat). Here is how our meal turned out, it was surprisingly delicious and I think I may even like it more than I like Jjapaghetti by itself:

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The soju is optional!

Feeling too uncool to be at Arco Cafe, Seongsu-dong, Seoul

If you’ve been feeling a little bit too cool with all of this staying home in your pyjamas business, then head to Seongsu to level out your ego a little bit. The customers at this new cafe, ‘Arco’, looked like they were stopping by for coffee on their way to far cooler, far more important fashion-related things. It was such a lovely cafe with a gallery/concept store on the second floor and a cafe on the ground floor. I really enjoyed our apple crumble and delicious strawberry croissant situation.

I’ve made it my goal for 2020 to make more of an effort to get some friends in this crazy city we live in. Being a foreigner in South Korea, or in any country, can get a little bit overwhelming. Besides, everyone needs to have a good old gossip over a $6 flat white from time to time. I have been so inspired and amazed by the internet community I have found here in South Korea and I hope to meet each and every human I have had an interaction with on Instagram, YouTube and here on my blog!

If you are living in a foreign country, what are some ways you like to meet new friends? Also, if you live in Seoul, and you’re reading these words, I would love to explore an area of Seoul with you? I could honestly have a meaningful conversation with a forest, so don’t worry if you’re a shy/introverted human! I don’t discriminate. Also, upon reflection, maybe telling people I want to meet up with them on the internet is a bit creepy and I totally understand if nobody ever responds to this post…

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This is a mural that was featured in Goblin (the K-drama!!)

 

 

์ •์ง€์˜์ปคํ”ผ: Korean Cafe that overlooks the Suwon Fortress

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If you’re located in the Suwon/Yongin area in Korea, visiting the Suwon Fortress is an alternative travel plan to braving the Seoul Subway system to explore Gyeongbokkung and the surrounding Hanok Village. The neighbourhoods surrounding the huge fortress, that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are super trendy yet quiet. The combination of the early spring weather and the lack of customers due to coronavirus made us feel like we were on a mini-vacation. We had a hard time choosing which amazing cafe to go to, but ์ •์ง€์˜์ปคํ”ผ was our final choice! There were two other couples waiting to go inside when we arrived. The interiors were simple, yet industrial and modern. We had a delicious coffee each and enjoyed the view of the Suwon Fortress from the rooftop while soaking up the afternoon March sun. We were also able to plan our route along the fortress while enjoying our coffee.

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Jung Jiyoung Coffee Roasters

Follow me on Instagram to see more (edited) photos and story updates. I would also love to hear your Korean cafe recommendations, I am always on the lookout for new places to go but they usually just stay saved in my phone for several months before I get there. Wishing you a happy and healthy week ahead!

 

How to Order Coffee in Korean

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Here is a little cheat sheet if you are coming to Korea and want to perfect your coffee ordering skills. This is great for those wanting to improve their skills here in Korea, or for travellers interested in the Korean language visiting Korea. Keep scrolling for an English translation.

S = Sales Assistant, C = Customer ( You!)

S: ์•ˆ๋…•ํ•˜์„ธ์š”. ์ฃผ๋ฌธํ•˜์‹œ๊ฒ ์–ด์š”? Or ๋ญ ๋“œ๋ฆด๊นŒ์š”?

C: ๋”ฐ๋œปํ•œ ์นดํŽ˜๋ผ๋–ผ ํ•œ ์ž” ์ฃผ์„ธ์š”.

S: ์‚ฌ์ด์ฆˆ๋Š” ์–ด๋–ป๊ฒŒ ํ•ด ๋“œ๋ฆด๊นŒ์š”?

C: ํ†จ ์‚ฌ์ด์ฆˆ๋กœ ํ•ด ์ฃผ์„ธ์š”.

S: ๋“œ์‹œ๊ณ  ๊ฐ€์„ธ์š”?

C: ๋„ค, ๋งž์•„์š”.

S: ๋”ฐ๋œปํ•œ ์นดํŽ˜๋ผ๋–ผ ํ†จ ์‚ฌ์ด์ฆˆ ํ•œ ์ž” ๋งž์œผ์„ธ์š”?

C: ๋„ค.

S: ๋„ค, 4,500 ์› ์ž…๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.

—–beep boop beep boop credit card sounds—-

S: ์˜์ˆ˜์ฆ ๋“œ๋ฆด๊นŒ์š”?

C: ๊ดœ์ฐฎ์•„์š”. ๋ฒ„๋ ค์ฃผ์„ธ์š”.

S: ์˜†์—์„œ ์ž ์‹œ๋งŒ ๊ธฐ๋‹ค๋ ค์ฃผ์„ธ์š”.

C: ๋„ค, ๊ฐ์‚ฌํ•ฉ๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.

—–coffee machine sound—-

Barista: 36๋ฒˆ ๊ณ ๊ฐ๋‹˜, ๋”ฐ๋œปํ•œ ์นดํŽ˜๋ผ๋–ผ ๋‚˜์™”์Šต๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.

C: ๊ฐ์‚ฌํ•ฉ๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.

B: ๋ง›์žˆ๊ฒŒ ๋“œ์„ธ์š”.

—–drink coffee for 4 hours—-

 

English Translation

S = Sales Assistant, C = Customer

S: Hello. Are you ready to order? Or What can I get you?

C: One cup of hot cafe latte, please.

S: What size would you like?

C: Tall size, please.

S: Is that for here?

C: Yes, that’s right.

S: So, that’s one tall hot cafe latte?

C: Yes.

S: Okay, that’s 4,500 won, please.

—–beep boop beep boop credit card sounds—-

S: Do you want a receipt?

C: It’s okay. Please throw it away.

S: Please wait over there for a moment.

C: Yes, thank you.

—–coffee machine sound—-

Barista: Customer 36, your cafe latte is ready.

C: Thank you.

B: Enjoy

—–drink coffee for 4 hours—-

A day of my life in South Korea

Good morning! If you’re new here, welcome to my blog. My name is Johanna and I make blog posts and youtube videos about my life in South Korea! Lately, I have been making the most out of having a lovely new home to live in.ย  I have been more or less stuck here since the outbreak of coronavirus here in Korea. I am a complete homebody though, so I am not complaining about having to keep indoors! Here are some images of said homebody action, followed by a YouTube video I published last week.

If you are in Korea, feeling a little bit of cabin fever, please don’t forget to get out of the house for fresh air. There are plenty of places to explore that don’t involve being surrounded by lots of people. Parks, hiking trails, rivers and playgrounds are all very quiet at this time, make the most of it! Alternatively, you could take up a new hobby like I did last year. I decided to learn how to embroider and I have really been loving it. I bought a “starter kit” from Amazon last year, check it out!

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For my pattern, I used a beautiful book by Yumiko Higuchi called ‘Embroidered Botanicals’
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Eating beef BBQ at home. For some reason, home-cooked BBQ tastes so much better than BBQ in a restaurant. A controversial opinion I’m sure.
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A rainy day in “quarantine”
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I’ve had so much spare time to do annoying household jobs like cleaning the fridge!

Things I brought back to Korea as an Australian Expat living in Seoul

Hello Internet! Living as a foreigner in a strange land can have its challenges. For example, Korean toothpaste tastes kind of weird and mild, and don’t even get me started on what they call “honey” at the supermarket. Whenever I have the chance to go back to Australia, I always keep in mind the kinds of things I need to bring back with me in order to survive in South Korea!

If you have lived abroad, you may have faced culture shock challenges. You may have also faced ‘lack of choices as a foreign consumer’ shock at your local shops. As an expat living over yonder, things like toothpaste, tampons, books (if you’re living in a non-English speaking country), yeast extract spreads for your toast (Vegemite), shoes for your foreign clown feet, bras, socks and teas are essential to bring with you.

Pro Tip: If you’re in Korea, I use iHerb for all of my foreign health product needs and Book Depository for all of my reading needs. Also, it’s worth subscribing to Book Depository’s mailing list (which they will do for you ever so kindly and unwittingly if you purchase something) because they have regular sales and deal$$.

If you thought I was going to write about these products in an in-depth way, you are wrong. I’ve discovered the wonders of YouTube and I am absolutely obsessed with filming myself, editing and putting it out into the world for everyone to judge! It’s amazing.

The quality of this video is so terrible but I am just so excited about having a new hobby that it doesn’t seem to bother me! If you are a foreigner living abroad, I would love to know what things you bring back with you to make your life a little bit more comfy – let me know in the comments below!

A Korean House Tour in Seoul, South Korea

Hello, internet world! I recently moved house, but before I did that, I managed to film a very shaky and in-depth tour of our apartment in Seoul. It cost about $700 a month and was what is called a Villa. We now live in a more spacious and cheap situation a little outside of Seoul and couldn’t be happier. Here’s to an exciting 2020 full of blog posts, picture taking, Webtoons, and YouTube videos! Hooray.

I am new to YouTube, so I don’t have many options when it comes to choosing the thumbnail. This snapshot was the least terrifying of them all. I think the idea of sharing my life in video form on the internet is kind of weird but we humans are communication fiends. I really want to share my experiences and use my new hobby to force myself to be more social, explore Korea more, and find creative ways to edit videos!

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Thank you for watching/reading/exiting immediately!