건배!

Taking a break from watching travel videos of South Korea, I was watching travel videos of Japan. One presenter for a professional series of videos said something formulaic before enough of his meals that I noticed it, but he said it so fast that I had no chance of catching it. The internet to the rescue. It’s itadakimasu, which is variously explained by various people on the internet, and I won’t attempt to get to the bottom of it. Clearly, it is very different from Korean 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meok-kess-seum-ni-da, I will eat well). 

Before drinking, he said something which I caught as kampai or gampai, which the internet tells me is kanpai, which is clearly related to the Korean which I remembered and searched for as geombae, but which the internet tells me is geonbae. So who borrowed the expression from whom? Neither – they both borrowed it from the Chinese, who say ganbei. Either way, it means empty cup, but does not necessarily require that all the contents should be drunk immediately. First up in the meal, it probably has that result, but later, after some consumption, I for one would take a sip rather than down the lot. Koreans now also say 원샷! (one shot). It is also more associated with soju and beer rather than makgeolli or wine.

My hearing the Japanese word as kampai and remembering the Korean word as geombae is another example of assimilation. Once you are pronouncing /n/, then close your lips for the beginning of /b/, the /n/ turns into an /m/. If you say it fast enough, the /n/ disappears completely. The same process happens in Latin/English in + bibere > imbibe (seeing that we’re talking about drinking). But the Latin/English spelling changed to reflect the pronunciation, while the Korean spelling 건배 retains the original form.

While English-speaking cooks/hosts can say ‘Enjoy your meal’ (most formally – there are also a number of less formal things to say), there is nothing really for the rest of us to say. It would sound strange to say ‘I will enjoy my meal’ before a meal, while ’Thank you/Thanks for the meal’ is more usually said after the meal. Saying a prayer doesn’t overcome the problem, because praying is talking to God, not to the cook/host, even if we add thanks for the cook/host’s time and effort after our thanks for the food. 

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