So I’m in a restaurant in Seoul with a bunch of friends. I’m stuffing my face with my favorite Korean barbecue meat while looking at Google Translate. I stop. What. The. Hell?
I don’t know if I should force myself to vomit, stab my host with my chopsticks, stab myself or just smile because the meat was so delicious.
I try to gather my composure. I ask my friends what I just ate. They tell me “gall-meh-gi-sall.” I show them the translation in my phone. I put on my “Scary American Face” and ask why I scarfed down about a pound of “seagull meat.”
Once again, my naivete makes my friends laugh so hard they cry. “It’s not really seagull meat; it just looks like seagull meat.” Before I can ask how the hell they know what seagull meat looked like, they follow up, “It’s pig neck.”
This happened again when I thought I called my Korean mob boss friend “my older brother” but I actually called him my “gay lover.” Lucky for me, he thought it was hilarious; his translator thought I’d end up as seagull meat.
That’s not the weirdest.
One morning when I was living in Seoul, I pulled what I thought was a relatively clean T-shirt off my clothes rack (I didn’t have a closet). Black stuff covered my shirt. Upon further inspection, I found that same black stuff on more clothes and all over my walls. The stain looked like it was spreading through my apartment.
My landlady spoke only Korean.
“Wait!” I remembered. “My Korean boss is fluent in English.”
I zipped to my university and met up with her. We played chat tennis for a while before I told Dr. Kim (not her real name), “I’ve got a huge question for you.”
“I’ve got black shit all over my walls.”
Dr. Kim looked at me, not sure if her jaw should drop or recede into her skull.
“Why do you shit on your walls?”
“No! No no no no. There’s crap all over my walls.” I had never seen her smile, and she apparently wasn’t going to start now. “I don’t mean crap. There’s stuff. Black stuff’s covering my walls, even all over my clothes.”
“Why do you think it’s a good idea to tell me that you shit on your walls and clothes?”
“No, look, I’ve got a photo.” I tried to show her my phone.
“I absolutely do not want to see a photo of your shit.”
I looked at Google Translate and said, “Gome-paeng-ee.”
“Mold is growing over your shit that you spread all over your walls?”
“Black mold is growing on my wall. There’s not shit anywhere in my house. I meant mold. I don’t know how to clean it.”
“Why didn’t you just say that first? Wash it with bleach.”
There’s a lesson somewhere here. Maybe, “Don’t underestimate people’s abilities to understand and don’t overestimate the usefulness of translation aps.”