“We must always be on guard against fire” & other phrases you probably won’t need on your trip to Korea


Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

Basic English Korean Conversation For Foreigners

Author: None listed
Date: None given
Publisher: None listed
Discovered at: Estate sale

Representative Quote:

“What a severe typhoon we had last night!”
kan-bam-e t’ae-p’ung-un ch’am sim-haet-suo-ni-da

“Have your family come through the war O.K.?”
Taek-ui sik-gu-dul-un chon-jaeng chung mu-sa-ha-yot-sup-nik-ga

Your Crap Archivist understands that it is entirely unreasonable to expect this daft phrasebook to contain all of the useful thoughts I might like to express on a journey to Korea. Of course there is no “Why does the karaoke video for ‘The Greatest Love of All’ feature so many goats?” or “I will order the Bi Bim Bop, unless you have something even more onomatopoeiac.”

But even before getting to out-of-nowhere phrases for travelers like “It is a castle in the air” or “I’m afraid that many districts have suffered seriously,” the astute English-speaker should discern that something is amiss with Basic English Korean Conversation For Foreigners.

Here’s the first clue, from a foreword that promises travelers that the couple hundred translated phrases that follow are “the most common in the everyday life of the people of Korea”:

This verbosity distinguishes many of the everyday phrases in the pages to come. A short chapter titled “Seasons” neglects to include “What will the weather be like?” and “How should I dress?”

Yet it does include:

  • “I like spring best of all the seasons of the year.
  • “How about going on a picnic next Sunday if it’s fine?”
  • “Where are you going this summer, Mr. Pak?”
  • “Do you like mountaineering?”
  • “Birds are singing merrily in the tree.”
  • “Hallo, A! Isn’t it cold?”

Despite the title’s promise of Conversation, our whimsical author mostly just spins out phrase after phrase faintly related to the topic of any particular chapter like it’s some bilingual game of Password.

Once in a while, though, there’s a stab at dialogue.

As with Hemingway, the challenge lies in keeping track of who is speaking. This next one is a spare one-act concerned with traditional society’s alienation from media technology.

Here’s the best of this deeply impractical book. Imagine getting around in Seoul with just these to choose from.

  • I’m on my way to a friend’s wedding.
  • A wonderful improvement in aircraft, indeed.
  • My body aches all over.
  • Give me some imported toilet soap?
  • The fire started at the greengrocer’s.
  • That’s a beautiful frock you’re wearing, Okja.
  • Take the measure for a pair of brown shoes. Please make them a smart shape.
  • May I put some pomade on?
  • Here you are, sir. You will note that they are commemorative stamps.

Bonus Crap!

Poorly Translated International Hotel Pamphlets

Once you’ve finished your tour of the land of typhoons and smart-shaped shoes, why not drop into Hong Kong for a visit to the famous Harbour Hotel?

This darling pamphlet from the same estate sale celebrates the Harbour’s 15 stories, its wall-to-wall carpeting, its “harbour view spangling at its best beneath the morning sun” and it’s Aoishiro Night Club, which features “entertainment and dancing intimately decorated.”

Of course, speakers of American English might find some surprises in a city that speaks the Queen’s.

In Hong Kong, the trunk is the boot, the hood is the bonnet, and a limousine …

… is a Datsun.

Also, Moscow’s Hotel Rossija wishes you “good luck in your business and success”!

“It’s like a visit card or the face of Moscow,” reads this remarkable pamphlet, also from the same sale. Besides the night club “Manhattan Express” and close proximity to the Kremlin, Hotel Rossija is most proud of its workout room.

“We also offer You to come to the medicine center and the health club of our hotel. If you don’t feel well or you are just tired and you are not in the mood, but you don’t have time for rest, health club offers you unique programs of making healthier adapted to individual peculiarities of your health.”