[FOUNTAIN]Dogs, scandals and apathy

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[FOUNTAIN]Dogs, scandals and apathy

As personality differs from person to person, there are unique images associated with countries. No matter whether it is good or bad, an image of a nation is a general character that has formed and become solid over a lengthy period of time.

News out of Paris a few days ago well describes what kind of country France is. During the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Victor Hugo, middle and high school students in France began their first classes of the new year by reading Hugo's writings. Another news story was about the retirement of Yves Saint-Laurent, the fashion designer, which triggered an emotional response among the French. Although the literary works of Victor Hugo are worth a great deal of attention, why all the fuss about a man who designs dresses?

Well, things are not that simple. The French love of culture and the arts is well known, and no one would challenge the generalization that France is a nation of culture. Koreans were offended by an aging French sex-kitten actress who criticized Koreans for eating dogs, and scowled back at the French by saying that their consumption of horsemeat and snails is uncultured. Even so, Koreans do not deny that France is a cultural nation. By promoting its artists and writers - and fashion designers - it has gotten the reputation as a nation that fosters arts and culture.

France is not the only country that carries a label. Most industrialized nations have good images. Germany ruined its image during the Nazi era, but Germany evokes virtues such as precision, discipline and cooperation. Great Britain is a country of tradition and gentlemen, and the United States boasts of its pragmatism, represented by blue jeans. Japan has an image of politeness. Nations and their people have become symbols.

What about Korea? The world does not know Korea as a nation of culture with a lengthy history. Instead, Korea is known as a newly industrialized nation that overcame a recent financial crisis, that exports a lot of semiconductors and cars, and that held the Olympics a while ago and will hold the World Cup games this year.

There are other images: a country still divided, where police and demonstrators engage in fierce street battles; where people eat dogs and where there are numerous gangsters and scandals.

There seems to be nobody who cares for our national image. Even the Government Information Service, which made a fuss denying foreign press reports on the recent government effort to gag the press, keeps silence nowadays.

The writer is a Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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