Friday, October 23, 2009

Roman Candles

I left the apartment early this morning to find a cake for my wife's birthday before she woke up, and discovered that my favourite local bakery didn't open until 9am. I'm used to Koreans working very long hours, and since many British bakeries are open much earlier in the day, I'd assumed the same would be true here, but it isn't.

Avoiding the Paris Baguette chain as being too manufactured and clichéd, I located an alternative that was open, and for once was rather glad to have a staff member hover over me while I made a selection from a large array of choices. My new best friend ventured to tell me the ingredients which met with my approval, and after telling her "I'd like to buy this one", we proceeded to the checkout.

Which is where this thus-far smooth transaction went off the rails. As the cake was being packed, the assistant said something in Korean to me the only part of which I understood was "cho" (초) which means a 'second' (of time). It crossed my mind that I was being told that she would 'just be a second', which if you're British is the kind of thing a person packing something in a shop for you would be likely to say, but in retrospect probably deviates outside the norm of the Korean language on the principle that it is too casual. I apologised, said I didn't understand, and contrary to any impression I might have thus far created, didn't speak Korean. I'd considered explaining that it was my wife's birthday, but I wasn't sure it added anything to the situation. I paid and left.

Back at home, it quickly became clear that "cho" is also the Korean word for 'candles' as well as 'second' - and despite these having been included with every cake I'd ever witnessed being purchased before, my failure to grasp the other meaning of this word coupled with the assistant not trying to clarify her question had led to me, or rather my wife, not having any with her cake. I was kicking myself for not having thought to look up the word for candles before I'd left the apartment, but this is the problem with only having a smattering of usable Korean - once any conversation strays outside my 700-word vocabulary I'm very quickly lost.

Korean Mother announced that she had one we could use, and promptly returned with the kind Buddhist worshippers take to temples - which in other words was not so much a candle as a blunt object.

Next year, I'll remember the Korean word for 'candles' - and I'll probably visit a different store.

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