Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Mexican Asks the Korean

Dear Korean,

Why do Koreans repeat "Annyong Haseo!" when someone greets them with "Annyong Haseo!" Isn't it redundant? And how does the meaning change?

Salsa, the Mexican Brother of Kimchi

Dear Salsa,

The Korean would like to tell the readers that you are Gustavo Arellano, columnist for OC Weekly who is known for writing the insightful and hilarious !Ask A Mexican! If it was not obvious so far, Ask A Korean was directly inspired by the Mexican's work. Click the link to !Ask A Mexican! on the right and check it out yourselves. Welcome to the show, Mexican.

As to the question - don't gabachos say "hello!" to "hello!" as well? That's kinda redundant too, ?que no? But I can see where you're coming from. Every time I say "!Buenos dias!" to a Mec-jahk (derogatory Korean term for Mexicans; could be just an LA Korean American thing,) they always reply "Pinche chino."

(If you don't get that, go to !Ask A Mexican! and check out the glossary.)

"Annyong Haseo" is actually a question - it literally translates into "Are you well?" Let me ask you this, Mexican: don't you hate it when you have to perfunctorily say "I'm good" before you can ask back "How are you?", while fully knowing that the answer would be also "I'm well"? If you had noticed, Koreans did not rise from the ashes of the Korean War into the shining star of Asia for no reason. Korean folks are efficient people; they realized the inefficiency of saying the answer to "are you well?", so they just stopped saying it. The meaning does not change when the question is repeated.

It gets better. Koreans say "Annyong Haseo" only when they wish to be polite, usually toward an older person. When Koreans greet their peer, they simply say "Annyong," and the reply is also "Annyong." Again, this is a question - "Good?" "Good?" How efficient is that?

In Korean the polite form of "Good bye" is "Annyong-hee Gaseo." ("Go well.") The informal form is, again, "Annyong." So often Koreans will say "Annyong" twice whenever they meet; once to greet, once to say bye. And only the inefficient crackers will find that confusing. That's why Asian cars are kicking American cars' ass around the block.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Ask away at


  1. I haven't quite yet figured out when you're supposed to be taken seriously and when you're not, but I'm sure you know that Koreans being "efficient folks" is really a very modern phenomenon. And as far as "efficient speech" is concerned, I often find it somewhat inconvenient that we do not have short and simple expressions for "please" and "thank you." Damned too many syllables in "gamsahamnida."

  2. Hang on...this efficiency is hardly unique...

    Amongst the many greetings that us Brits employ, one of the most popular with Korean students is the (somewhat dated) 'how do you do?', a question which requires no answer. Personally I remember being confused as a child when older students would say to me 'you alright mate?' and then seemingly have no interest in the answer (it wasn't long until I understood that the answer wasn't ever expected. Probably my most common greeting to friends is now 'Alright?' to which I'd expect the same rhetoric in answer.

    And besides, it's very rarely that I ever hear 'annyong hasseo' as a reply - it's usually the most useful of Korean words that normally answers just about any question, demand, statement or silent action....'yeah'

  3. Kamsahamnida can actually be shortened!
    Well I just think the language is neat. I love Hangugeo because altough it is confusing at first, it's unique and fun to listen to. Annyeong Hashimnikka?

  4. Old reply to Jeonuchi but "efficient folks" is not really modern. Historically, Koreans are extremely efficient folks. Korea was invaded by foreign powers at least 900 times. If Japan and China was the two powers surrounding Korea, how the hell did Korea survive thousands of years.
    Korea had to keep their military in top notch quality and keep their minds straight.
    1. Imjin War - Yi Sun Shin and Kwon Yul. Hwacha was also used here... a weapon even China wanted blueprints for. This weapon helped in a battle where 3800 peasants fought 30,000 samurais.
    2. The Mongol army which defeated China in a year took them 30 years to sign a peace treaty with the Korean dynasty at that time.
    3. The largest army every to attack Korea is probably the 3-5 million army of Chinese dynasty of Sui. That might be probably one of the most effortless win ever. With brilliant psycological attacks, a simple use a river had the army retreating and in part, lead the dynasty to ruin.
    And speaking of efficiency -> Hangeul

    Korean efficiency is ancient. The world will mistaken it as recent but that is because of the worn down, outdated system during the last dynasty in Korea. And actually, their system worked perfectly fine in the beginning. It was just becoming obsolete leading to the very first complete foreign rule over Korean peninsula in 20th century.

    Of course, there has been many other nations who were very efficient.

    I realize that this post is nothing related to the original topic and will stop.

    1. Haha, arguably unrelated but informative nonetheless. Go on now.

  5. What Paul means when referring to the Sui invasions (in the early 600s AD) was that there were at least 2 major invasions of what was then the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo by the Sui monarch (who ruled China at the time) of several million men apiece. In relatively short order (despite being drastically outnumbered), the forces of Goguryeo, led by a few notably brilliant commanders (an individual by the name of Ulchi Munduk comes to mind), repelled the Sui armies. The Sui Dynasty itself, saddled with unrest at home and the financial expense of not one, but several disastrous campaigns, collapsed under the weight of its own mistakes (ostensibly accelerated by Goguryeo's victories over the Sui armies).

  6. jaajajajajajaa I'm a mexican woman and dated a korean guy sooo recently!! jajajaja...and i have to say, when we first started going out we were very honest about ourselfs and said "I have no real interest in your culture" to each other, for it was true at the moment (and the "pinche chino" expression crossed my mind too jajaja), though finally we found out that our cultures had a lot in common, so i ended loving kimchi as he does with salsa.

    And mexicans [may not call to efficency in language] also have many ways to avoid complete frases [even conversations] with just one or two words; as for greeting we can say "todo bien?" and the answer is also "todo bien" and then you just move along knowing that with that exchange of words you have just said "hello, how are you? and goodbye".

    so..move along ;)

  7. OMFG THANK YOU for this post!

    It bugs the crap out of me when language travel guides translate things loosely.

    Annyong Haseo is a PERFECT example of this (as it turns out) - knowing that

    Annyong Haseo :: Hello : Annyong : Hi

    os fine, except I never knew why they used the same abbreviation for "goodbye."

    Now I can sleep again. Thanks!

  8. Oy. So I totally whiffed the colons on that last post.

    I apologize. Nobody likes a colon whiffer.

  9. and Paul AKA THEKOREAN, verb agreement is one of your pitfalls.

    ex., Isn't it odd that a Korean were the first person to...

    ex., I would like to know why the medicine were not good for me.....


  10. Gosh, It's difficult to read Korean words written in Latin alphabet. I read "안녕하세요" (Annyong Haseo!) exactly as "Annoying Haseo".

    BTW, nice blog!

  11. Great article! My Korean wife works in a donut shop frequented by Hispanics who are constantly hitting on her. She seems to be quite popular with them, despite the ring! Some of them have even taken to learning a couple of Korean phrases, but nothing serious. I always enjoy seeing the different cultures interact. Keep up the great articles!

    Chunsam in Texas

  12. hmm
    well, in my experience koreans especially middle-aged usually say "neh" in a long upstair tone


  13. Hi Korean,

    Please take down that's terribly offensive. Not trying to call you out, just keepin' it real. I know you probably didn't mean it offensively, but it just seems very caricature-ish a la Japanese people in Looney Tunes to me.

    Thanks, Korean. Great f'ing blog.

    Fellow Korean

  14. Rara Avis,

    That is the logo of Ask A Mexican!

  15. Lol, I am a mexican girl and the phrase "Pinche Chino" is hilarious in mexico it could have several meanings all of them derogaroty of course, but you my dear korean might be not appealing to mexicans at first glance because we usually do not say it just like that so easy, lol. My experience with korean people here in mexico is very limited because even though we know they exist in mexico they are kind of isolated, do not mingle with us. Most of them live in downtown and own shops or restaurants of asian food, also they have a drug mafia in the most dangerous place of mexico city , so we are not exposed so much to them, also it´s not like my mom would be so glad if I marry an asian, (yes in mexico racism exist) I am sorry to say it but its true and if someone tells you different is lying. No offense to asians I find them cute personally.

  16. I've started doing that in English as well. lol

    "How are you?"
    "How are YOU?"


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