Monday, July 19, 2010

Meditations on a Box of Korean Waffle Mix

Not long ago, Yuriko brought home a box of Korean waffle mix, acquired at H Mart, a Korean supermarket. Many basic ingredients of Japanese cuisine are available there at lower prices than at Japanese grocery stores, or for that matter, most small stores specializing in East Asian goods. Waffles aren't native to either Japan or Korea that I know of, but both have adopted them.

It's an artful box, sporting a studio-lit photo of a Belgian waffle topped with fruit, powdered sugar and ice cream. Since it's an import from Korea, almost everything on the box is written in Korean, as you'd expect, but there are splashes of English as well -- mainly "European Waffle Mix" and "Enjoy Home Baking." Why "European" and not "Belgian," I don't know. Either Belgium has no cache in Korea when it comes to waffles, or South Korea and the EU have some kind of trade agreement that bans calling waffles Belgian if in fact they're from somewhere else. Stranger things have emerged from the EU, I think.

Those are exactly the kind of English phrases you might also find on a Japanese box of waffle mix. A fair number of packed items in Japan -- and I suppose in Korea, too, from the evidence of this box -- include English not because they were created by English-speakers or bought by English-speakers but because (this is what Yuriko says) it makes the box look more exotic to Japanese-speakers.

It's like splashing a French name on a product, though it's a little hard to imagine a product for English-speakers using non-roman characters to make itself more exotic. People would eye the thing suspiciously and register a WTF moment, which usually isn't good for sales. Imagine if you saw the following on your waffle mix:

That's largest Hangul on the waffle-mix box, and whether it says the brand or "waffle mix" in Korean, I can't say. But would you ever find it on a box of Aunt Jemima or Bisquick pancake mix?

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