Air China night flight, Beijing to Seoul. Air crew is Chinese; passengers, mostly Korean. And the language I hear around me, as the flight attendants yell "You must sit down! Our airplane is taking off!" or ask "Do you want rice, or noodles?" ?

Often those very words, in English. Chinese and Korean are both "hard" languages, with limited overlap in writing systems and virtually none in grammar. Though the cultures have interacted for centuries, these days speakers of one language are apparently less likely to speak the other than to know some English. The point is unsurprising but its manifestations are often interesting.

This is not to imply that English will get you far in either place.

And speaking of universal languages, it may not be hard to guess where I dined in Seoul this evening:

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5274B.jpg

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.