The article presents an amusing exploration of the unconventional and westernized signage found in Seoul, South Korea, reflecting the city's rapid modernization and cultural fusion.


The author of the article takes readers on a humorous journey through Seoul, highlighting the unexpected and often comical English signage that adorns the city's businesses. These signs, ranging from sugary treat shops to creatively named bars and restaurants, reflect a trend of westernization and a departure from traditional Korean norms. The piece underscores the contrast between Korea's conservative societal rules and the playful, audacious nature of these signs, particularly in tourist-heavy districts like Mapo-gu and Itaewon. The article also touches on the innovative fusion of European and Korean cuisines, as seen in dishes like Bolognese Tteokbokki and variations of the Portuguese pastel de nata. The author's experience as a digital nomad in Seoul provides a unique perspective on the city's evolving identity, caught between its cultural heritage and the influences of North American and European cultures.


  • The author finds the choice of English names for Korean businesses, such as "I'm a bartender" and "I Hate Onion," to be original and humorous, prompting laughter and surprise.
  • There is an evident admiration for the way Seoul is embracing Western influences, particularly in the food industry, while also noting the conservative nature of Korean society in terms of dating, gender roles, and drug use.
  • The article suggests that the traditional rules of Korean society seem to be more relaxed in touristy areas, as evidenced by more audacious signage.
  • The author expresses amusement at the creative culinary combinations, like Bolognese Tteokbokki, but also a sense of cultural preservation, choosing not to try certain fusion dishes to avoid offending Portuguese friends.
  • The author appreciates the unique character of Seoul's signage as a standout feature of the city's westernization process, contributing to the memorable experiences had during their time as a digital nomad in the capital.

A Hilarious Tour Through the Audacious Signs of Seoul

Not exactly the signs you would expect in the South Korean capital.

A sign at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul— Photo from the Author.

When thinking about Seoul, South Korea, bursting into laughter is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

One might envision the technological side of this metropolis, the river of people (it’s a 20 million inhabitants’ capital, after all!), the delicious food, and perhaps the historical sites.

Speaking of the latter, you might encounter holy signs like the one above.

When coming to Korea, though, it wouldn’t pass unnoticed how this country, or better, its capital Seoul, is westernizing at a very fast pace, or as I like to say, ‘sugarizing.’

This trend is evident in the proliferation of sugary goods-selling coffee shops, especially in its most touristy and young districts, such as Mapo-gu and Itaewon.

These areas are now pullulating with signs from cake houses, cupcake shops, ice-cream shops, and even French croissants’ boutique coffee shops — things that have never been traditional in Korea.

One of the many signs from a shop selling sweets you would come across in Seoul — Photo from the Author.

Beyond these shops, never in a million years would I have expected to come across signs displaying peculiar names of restaurants or bars in English that would literally make me burst into laughter or leave me puzzled in the middle of the street.

The choice of names is something we would hardly ever encounter in a Western capital.

Here are a few examples:

Bar “I’m a bartender” — Photo from the Author.
A restaurant called “I Hate Onion” — Photo from the Author.
The entrance of a restaurant named ‘Broccoli’ — not exactly the kind of food one would typically crave to enjoy at a restaurant. — Photo from the Author.

When I first saw these signs, I admit, I whispered a ‘wtf?’ in my mind and laughed at the originality of the name.

But the fun doesn’t stop here.

In fact, even though Korea has a conservative society with traditional rules that regulate the dating scene, gender roles, and marriage, and strongly forbids drugs, it seems like these demure rules don’t apply as much when it comes to touristy areas, like in the example below:

A pretty audacious choice for a sign in South Korea — Photo from the Author.

Lastly, the Korean audacity displayed in their signs doesn’t stop at bars and restaurants.

It goes as far as the creative combination of typical foods from European countries, revisited in the Korean way.

For example, I once saw a sign advertising Bolognese Tteokbokki — an Italian dish (Gnocchi alla Bolognese) where the pasta has been replaced by their own rice cakes, Tteokbokki, which indeed resembles the wheat pasta shape we eat in Italy (no picture of that unfortunately).

Or the Portuguese typical custard pastry — pastel de nata, offered in Seoul in multiple, creative versions that would probably make any Portuguese, even the most reserved, a bit mad.

‘Walnut pastel de nata?’ It doesn’t sound bad, but I didn’t want to risk upsetting my Portuguese friends.— Photo from the Author.

Closing notes.

Spending a few months in Seoul as a digital nomad in 2022 and 2023 taught me a lot about Korean society, particularly about the oxymoron between conservative societal rules and the admiration for continents like North America or Europe.

Something I had never expected to find, though, is that in their ‘westernization’ process, taking place, especially in their increasingly touristy capital, the peculiarity of the choice of English names for businesses stands out. These range from unexpected things, like onions or broccoli, to very descriptive places, such as the bar named ‘I’m a bartender.’

I can’t say that I left Korea without having some good laughter!

Here are my favorite articles of January’s writing prompt:

Monthly Challenge
Digital Nomads
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