Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: What do North Koreans think of South Koreans?
Most North Koreans think very fondly of South Koreans. Every day is a struggle for them, and they assume that South Koreans are warm-hearted and free-spirited and aren’t weighed down by the troubles of everyday life since they live a luxurious, comfortable life.
There is a North Korean saying that goes “kindness and generosity come from wealth.” North Koreans believe that this saying applies to South Koreans, too. The new wave of South Korean drama has affected the way North Koreans see South Koreans: in most South Korean drama, the main characters are innocent people who have their hearts in the right place.
But these ideas do not always have a positive impact on North Koreans. A vast majority of North Korean defectors arrive in South Korea imagining that all South Koreans will be like the chaebol characters in South Korean drama – once they arrive and face the reality of South Korean society, they become deeply disappointed.
On my way from North Korea to South Korea, I was in a constant state of fantasizing about South Korean society. I firmly believed that I could live like the characters in Korean drama. I never had any doubt that my new life in South Korea would be any different from what I saw in Korean drama. But the reality of Korean society was very different from what I had expected.
Thanks to technological advances, it has become easier for North Korean defectors to speak directly to North Koreans at home over the phone. If they told them about the reality of South Korean society and how it is different from what North Koreans imagine, they would be shocked to hear the truth.
When you get your hopes up, you always end up feeling disappointed. But once North Korean defectors get used to South Korean society and develop a better understanding of it, they begin to realize they’re lucky to have friendly South Korean neighbors around them.
At first I didn’t know whether I could survive in the new society and environment, but I made it this far thanks to my neighbors and caring friends I met in South Korea. I really like the way South Koreans act, they are caring and considerate of others.
North Koreans also love the South Korean accent and the way South Koreans talk – I’ve heard that people love the South Korean accent even in Pyongyang. Since people in my hometown talk more coarsely than those in Pyongyang, they were even more envious of the South Korean accent.
Before heard the South Korean accent, the Pyongyang accent was the most popular among people in my hometown. But things changed since Hallyu wave made its way into North Korea. When we heard the South Korean accent for the first time, the Pyongyang accent didn’t sound as attractive to us anymore.
When I talk with the accent I got from my hometown up North, I sound abrupt and curt, whereas Seoulites speak so softly and sweetly. I used to listen to K-pop on my MP3, and when the narration comes on in the middle of the song in which a man speaks with Seoul accent, my heart would start pumping.
In my old hometown, most guys knew how to play the guitar, and guys who could sing K-Pop were always the most popular with girls – they’d go crazy about guys who could do the narration with the South Korean accent in the middle of the song. With the Hallyu wave, North Koreans began to adopt and use words and expressions only used in South Korea.
Now I’m a citizen of Seoul I put as much effort as I can into speaking with a Seoul accent. But I have to admit that I still don’t sound like a real Seoulite when I speak.
When I don’t feel like living in South Korea anymore, listening to the pure Seoul accent is the first thing that reminds me that I’m now living in Seoul.
When I was still living in North Korea, I had heard that people in Kaesong speak like Seoulites. When I finally got to meet someone from Kaesong, I was so surprised to find out how similar the Kaesong accent was to the way Seoulites speak. The Kaesong accent sounded so sweet and gentle to me that I kept asking that person to keep speaking to me: “can you keep talking to me with your accent, please? I don’t care what you say. Please, just keep talking to me.”
The reality of South Korean society is different from the scenes of South Korean drama. But one thing which isn’t any different is the sweet, gentle way Seoulites speak. The Seoul accent is sweet enough to warm you up whenever you get to hear it.
Written by Je-son Lee
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image by Adam Westerman