Coffee has become an essential part of the daily lives of Koreans. Each Korean drank 288 cups of coffee in 2008, based on the amount of coffee beans that were imported that year. But elderly Koreans, who cannot speak English, as well as some younger Koreans who are not yet au fait with the coffee jargon, say ordering the beverage is strange and difficult.
"Coffee is imported, so we cannot do anything about the names," says one man in his 60s. "But why are the sizes classified as 'short' or 'tall' in English?" he said. "I'm a university graduate and have lived without any problems until now. I never imagined I'd end up getting nervous ordering coffee."
An office worker in his 30s said, "When I order coffee, I wonder whether I'm in Korea or America, hearing all the words that are used mixing English and Korean." One Internet portal even posted advice on how to avoid humiliation in coffee shops. "Just ask for 'original' coffee if the shop worker keeps using strange words," one advice reads. At Starbucks in Korea, milk is the only item written in Korean on a menu listing around 50 different drinks.
Stress levels began rising in the mid-1990s when so-called "family" restaurant chains began to pop up in Korea. T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigans, Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants featured menus in English, or words created by mixing Korean and English. The trend continues to this day: all nine restaurant and bakery chains operated by CJ Food Ville with their 1,400 outlets have foreign names.
The bakery chain is called "Tous les Jours," the coffee chain "A Twosome Place," while an ice cream chain is called "Cold Stone Creamery." Even a CJ chain that sells the Korean dish bibimbap is called "Café Sobahn." Its menu too is full of foreign words.
The problem gets worse when it comes to children's snacks. According to a study by a newspaper last year, 54.6 percent of 449 different snacks in production had names that included foreign words. Only 31.2 percent of the snacks had purely Korean names. But children and teens who are loyal customers of the snacks do not look favorably upon the foreign names. Eight students at Doseong Elementary School in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province sent a letter in 2007 to the heads of confectioners asking them to use Korean names. The petition drew support from around 1,000 people after it was posted on an Internet portal. At about the same time, a survey of third- and fourth-graders in elementary school showed that 79 percent favored Korean names for snacks, saying they sounded more familiar and made it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.
Korean language experts say we may end up thinking that it is only natural for products to have foreign names. This perception becomes ingrained as we become adults and create stereotypes that favor foreign words and developing disdain for our own words.