Growing up in England, people always asked me about my background. After all, I looked Asian. I was mostly met with intrigue or confusion when they found out I was Korean. I now acknowledge that this is all a part of introductions. In Korea, being a Korean-British gyopo has so far been received positively, unless people are being too polite. These are some of the stereotypes and shared opinions of England that I have noticed during my time here in Seoul.
I was never aware of my accent before moving to Korea, but now I am reminded of it constantly. As I grew up in the South, I naturally have a southern ‘Queen’s English’ accent, with an occasional Essex and London twang from university influences. Many Brits could feel uncomfortable with the fanfare surrounding the pronunciation of ‘water’, but it is understandable as everyone has a certain accent that appeals to them. I am a fan of the Busan accent (부산 사투리). There is a certain charm in the foreign intonation and rhythm which sounds lovely. I have heard so far from Koreans that the British accent sounds fresh, clean and crisp.
Very much like Hallyu, British media portray a certain image of England and Brits. There is the modern romantic like Hugh Grant who is polite and gentle, then there is the distinguished and intelligent man like Colin Firth, and there is the suave and cool James Bond. Of course this is a fantasy, the same way that not all Koreans are like Kim Soohyun. British TV shows are popular in Korea, such as ‘Skins’ and ‘Mad Fat Diary’, and some have huge fandoms like ‘Sherlock’
History + Architecture
England has a long history, longer than the US and Korea. Many people still picture England frozen in time with old castles and vintage items. Many are attracted to the antique ambience of British modern life as many things have remained the same. Quaint vintage towns, cobbled streets and nostalgic architecture is very different from Seoul’s modern jungle.
The British flag is trendy in Korea, mainly because of the bold and beautiful colours and shapes. It is a vague symbol of freedom and glamour and not necessarily linked to the people and country. Some people like the fashion that is associated with England; the grungy and edgy London and the preppy warmth of British countryside. Tweed jackets and horned glasses have become an image associated with European class.
Confining any individual under such broad strokes of assumption is easy but inaccurate. After all, your background is only one part of your whole complex identity. So far my experience has been positive which makes me think that if someone is interested in you, they are bound to speak favourably about your culture and background.
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