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My friend's wife was wirking in Korean company and visited Korean language free lessons. The first week she studied each Korean person in the comoany knew it and she got some supportive informal visits...
I had a similar reaction while I was working in Korea and studying at the same time. I would often try a bit of Korean out in the school cafeteria at lunch time. Then the person I was talking to would turn to their neighbour and comment in surprise how great my Korean sounded. They'd often forget to answer me actually. :(
My experience in Japan when using basic japnese was 99% no reaction, 1% waitress at restaurant double taking when I said thank you.
It's not normal to thank service staff in Japan so that could have been why the waitress reacted. Throwing in Japanese on top does have the chance of being a double whammy though, if she thinks you're a typical American tourist. I'd be doing the same (thanking in Japanese) since to me it's common courtesy and proper politeness.