Marina, Korea: On Ordering Coffee

Welcome to day 3 of this series, A Week Around the World. I asked and a whole bunch of lovely bloggers agreed to post throughout the week about love, travel, or any combination of the two. Our (me, the Russky, and my parents!) day today consists of a quick and dirty tour of Moscow’s greatest hits before the crazy wedding junk really begins. Today’s post is by Marina, an American in Korea. I’d give an introduction to her story but I can’t say anything better than her hilarious story can! As expats, I’m sure we’ve all been here…
a week around the world
Ordering a latte in Korea is almost like ordering at home, but with slightly different pronunciation. Sometimes it feels strange speaking “Konglish”, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Almost the entire menu is in English at most coffee shops and I usually never stray from the menu. The one time that I tried to order three shots in my grande latte, I could see the barista making three separate lattes. I promptly told her that I only wanted one, and learned to be content with a reduction in caffeine intake.

One day last year, I was meeting a friend to make our way to Seoul together. She was running late, so I decided to stop and get a latte. She asked if I could get one for her while I was at it and gave me instructions to ask for low fat milk. My Korean isn’t where I naively dreamt that it would be before embarking on my first flight to Seoul, but I was confident that I could remember what she had just taught me to say. However, it’s fairly common for foreigners to be laughed at when speaking Korean. I’ve heard stories from friends who speak much better Korean than I, about how they’ve been teased and not taken seriously, although their Korean, at least for the given situation, was as good as it needed to be to be understood.


I went into the coffee shop and ordered our lattes. Ordering for myself went well, but when I asked for low fat milk for my friend, something went wrong. The cashier seemingly didn’t understand what I was saying, although I was saying exactly what my friend had taught me to say. She just laughed. I repeated myself a few times. Another girl had come over to see if she could help. At this point they were both laughing and looking a little bewildered. I thought it was a case of the foreigner giggles and felt myself getting irritated. There have been quite a few times when going into a restaurant or cafe with other foreigners, where the staff would immediately huddle together, giggle, point and stare. It gets a little old after awhile. I repeated, “Low fat milk, please”, loudly and clearly. They were hysterical at this point until something finally clicked and they understood what I wanted.

A few months later, the subject of not being understood while speaking Korean came up at dinner. I told the story and was informed by my Korean friend that while thinking the girls at the coffee shop were being rude, I had really been shouting at them, over and over again, “Penis milk, please.”


Thanks Marina! We laugh, but we’re really all crying side because we’ve made a similarly foot-in-mouth mistake, haven’t we? So spill, give us all a laugh with your stupidest/worst language mistakes!

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21 thoughts on “Marina, Korea: On Ordering Coffee

    1. Link is fixed, sorry darling. With that and calling you a different name, I think I’ve got some kind of mind block with you.

      Thank you for contributing!

    1. Oh I forgot to say! She had actually told me the wrong word, so I got to inform her that she had been asking for “penis milk” over and over again for MONTHS! ~~

  1. OOOOH dear goodness. I guess you should be glad that they didnt have THAT on the menu – just think of what kind of latte your friend would have gotten! I am still blushing furiously at the story, especially because I had similar linguistic mishaps in Russia (describing my past job as ‘an energetic anal-enthusiast’) >.<

      1. LOL, no, I was definitely told. And then I switched into English (I was trying to say “energy analyst”) and everyone was like OOOOH, OK. But I hadn’t lived it down to date, esp with my family!

  2. Ahhhahahaha all of this story is so funny!!! Shame on your friend for making you ask for penis milk. Honestly, I never would’ve even bothered asking for low fat milk if someone asked me to in a foreign country hahah. My mom’s best friend is a native Russian speaker. When she was first in America (fully an adult, in her 30s) her English was pretty non-existent and she was trying to find chicken in the grocery store. She stopped a poor boy (like, teen-aged) stocking the shelves and, in heavily accented English, tried for “bird,” which he completely didn’t understand, so she tried flapping her arms like a chicken, then remembered the word for duck! But, no, she was actually shouting “dick” at him; either he finally understood the sexy Armenian lady wasn’t coming onto him and pointed her toward the poultry, or she gave up, but she eventually got her chicken. I know this story isn’t about me, but I can’t remember any serious (or funny!) blunders of my own in the Russian language…

    1. Ha. I could just imagine! This reminds me of what one of my students once said to me. Student: “Teacher, you eat cock?” Me: “Um… what?!” (I knew it couldn’t be what it sounded like, and I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what they mean when they say something wrong, but for the life of me I could NOT think of what she could possibly be saying.) Student: “You know, cock! You eat cock?” Me: “What is that?” (Still trying…) Student: “Cocka-cola, you know, candy?” Me: “Ohhhhhhhhhhh!”

  3. Hilarious! I used to get very frustrated trying to order coffee in Russia. My Russian was poor, but it’s not that difficult to order coffee and yet lots of people would seemingly refuse to understand what I was saying.

    1. Yeah! I think people really struggle with understanding different pronunciations. And some just don’t want to bother trying. You really do order most things in English at coffee shops in Korea, but with such a strange pronunciation I am still sometimes not understood.

  4. During my first year in Korea, we were getting ready for a meeting when my boss suddenly says, “Everybody please take a shit.” :D

    (‘S’ in Korean is sometimes pronounced as ‘sh’, so I can understand how he made this mistake.)

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