Last Wednesday, people around the world paused what they were doing as the sound of fifty million palms slapping fifty million foreheads echoed out from South Korea.
Coincidentally, last Wednesday was also the day the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced their new slogan for the city.
This was the end result of a contest in which sixteen thousand entrees were submitted. Give that a moment to sink in. In the opinion of those who made the final decision, there were 15,999 worse ideas than "I.SEOUL.U" submitted for this contest. Is that even possible?
The two competing finalists might help answer that question.
I can understand the judges' reluctance to go with the tired old Seoul/Soul wordplay, but at least this one means something... sort of.
I don't know. Maybe they were hoping this would catch on as a term young people used when they were going out on the town in Seoul.
"You staying in tonight?"
"Uh uh, baby. It's Friday night. I'm Seouling!"
In case of the unlikely event that this phenomenon might actually ever occur, my choice would have been "Seouling", but that's tantamount to saying I'd rather eat a bowl of dog shit than a bowl of pig or cow shit.
You see this a lot in Korea, from minor things like T-shirts and hats to more important things like names of businesses, which you'd think the owners would want to be a little more careful about when investing that kind of money.
Maybe I'm coming off as a racist asshole for mocking Koreans' predispositions to slapping mangled English-ish phrases all over every surface they can find, especially given my own piss poor Korean speaking ability for someone who's lived in this country for fourteen years.
But I'm not shaking my head because the designer of this sign doesn't speak perfect English. I can't fault him for that. I'm shaking my head because there are thousands of native English speaking expats walking around all over the place, and he didn't think to pull one of them aside and ask "Is this fucking ridiculous?" before spending however many thousands of dollars (or rather millions of won) on signage, menus, interior decor, etc...
I believe your average expat would be happy to share his or her opinion about that sort of thing. I certainly would, absolutely free of charge. And I'd walk away happy that I was able to help someone.
So why doesn't this ever seem to happen? Who knows? Maybe they're shy. Maybe they considered it, then thought "Fuck that! My English is super of best!" I don't have the answer.
But when it comes to branding a city, millions of dollars (or billions of won) could be being spent to flaunt some advertising executive's sub-par English skills. That shit's going to be on billboards, on bridges, on the sides of buses, you name it. You would think some token effort would be made to make it not sound stupid.
Take the city I live in, for example. Here's our slogan...
There are three ways that might be interpreted.
1. Gimpo is the best city in (Korea? the world?), and we don't understand how superlative adjectives work.
This is the interpretation I believe they were going for. This is a bold claim, considering our close proximity to Goyang, a city which, aside from rice production and being home to great comedy writers, soars above Gimpo by every conceivable metric. Hell, even their city slogan is better.
2. We sent a team of experts to Gimpos in parallel universes, and they came back extremely disappointed.
This one's a long shot, I admit. But anomalies in the fabric of reality brought on by careless interdimensional travel is the most reasonable explanation I can come up with for the existence of this traffic light.
3. Gimpo is the best Gimpo, because Gimpo is the only Gimpo.
The most technically correct interpretation, both in terms of grammar and scientific feasibility, is also the saddest. It's easy to be the best in a set of one. Gimpo, being the only Gimpo, is the best Gimpo by default.
If you asked a bunch of people which Nazi leader named Adolf Hitler had the most dignified mustache in all of history, the results of the poll would likely not be reflective of the participants' opinions of Hitler's mustache.
Claiming to be the best Gimpo is like claiming to be the best author of practical guides for contemporary urban sword use and flashlight-based martial arts. While technically true, it's not necessarily something to be proud of if you're objectively terrible.
I'm not saying Gimpo is objectively terrible. I'm just a little bitter because the mayor still hasn't gotten back to me about my suggestion for an alternative slogan.