On my way home from school yesterday, I decided to take a walk through the old neighborhood and visit the kimbap restaurant that I frequented last year. It’s called Kimbap Heaven (김밥천국). I went there every morning and bought the same thing: tuna kimbap. The ajumma (middle-aged woman – pictured below) who worked the morning shift got to know me and even grew to like me over several months. But our relationship wasn’t always so friendly – my first time in the restaurant didn’t go well. This is the story of my first time in a kimbap restaurant:
It took me a week to work up the nerve to go into the restaurant. In three months I had never seen a foreigner inside, and I was certain that none of the employees spoke a word of English. The fact that most of the employees were in their 40’s or 50’s meant that they were not likely to be patient as I stumbled painfully through ordering in Korean. After I chickened out three times, I finally walked in and sat down.
I spent so much time worrying that I was surprised by the fact that nobody seemed to notice me when I walked in. None of the usual awkward stares and not-so-quiet whispers (look, a foreigner!). Even the employees didn’t give me a second look, which was awkward; they usually get as far away as possible for fear that I might attack them with my English.
I sat patiently as the woman delivered food to other customers. I used that time to practice ordering in my head. I knew that a simple sentence could become a tongue-twister in an instant if I wasn’t prepared.
Finally, the woman walked over and asked for my order:
Woman: 뭐 드릴카요? (What can I get you?)
Me: 잠지 김밥 하나 주세요. (Tuna kimbap, please.)
The woman looked at me like I had three ears.
Woman: ……….뭐??? (………what???)
Me: 잠지…김밥…하나…주세요. (Tuna…..kimbap…..please.)
Woman: 뭐 말했어?!?!?!? (What did you say?!?!?!?!?)
At this point, I was getting pissed. I pointed at the tuna as I spoke.
Me: 잠지…김밥…주세요!!! (Tuna…..kimbap…..please!!!)
I guess that pointing really helped, because she finally seemed to understand. But she seemed angry, even when I was leaving. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, other than being a foreigner.
I told my Korean friend Leon about my experience the next day. I tried my best to order in Korean, but the woman was not impressed. I used respectful Korean and tried to speak clearly and slowly. For some reason, she was still rude. He asked me what I said to her. When I repeated my order, he started laughing hysterically.
“Taft, you should probably just order the tuna kimbap next time. Most places around here don’t serve vagina kimbap.” Oops…
The difference is subtle: 참치 (cham-chi) is tuna – 잠지 (jahm-ji) is vagina. Hence the confusion. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t go back in for a week. When I finally returned, I emphasized the CH sound.
I’ve never made that mistake again. But don’t worry – I have made plenty of others.
Until next time.