Sun, Feb 11, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Pyeongchang Olympics: South Koreans learn how to speak to, serve the enemy

Reuters, PYEONGCHANG, South Korea

When a hotel on South Korea’s east coast was asked on short notice to host nearly 280 North Korean visitors, the problem was not finding enough rooms — it was to learn how not to offend them.

Within days of the request, the about 150 staff of the four-star Inje Speedium Hotel and Resort were attending sessions on North Korean words and manners, one of which was taught by a professor who used to teach defectors from the North.

Their guests, who checked in on Wednesday, are North Korean cheerleaders who are to perform at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, about 80km from the border, one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers.

Since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, the two sides have grown culturally and linguistically apart, deepening the political gulf that had initially separated the poor, one-party state in the north from the rich, democratic south.

First rule: In the presence of the guests, do not refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by name, and certainly do not mention his nuclear and missile programs.

Do not even point at badges depicting the North’s former leaders, which are pinned to every North Korean visitor’s chest. In fact, call them “portraits,” not badges.

That is some of the advice Seoul-based Sogang University professor Kim Young-soo gave staff at the hotel.

“The two Koreas may have the same ethnic background, but have gone totally separate ways for such a long time [with] barely any interaction, so there can be misunderstandings over trivial things,” he said.

A separate one-page cheat sheet provided by the hotel to its staff points out that North Koreans do not use English words, such as “shampoo” and “conditioner,” which are used in the South.

The North also has words for food and everyday necessities that sound completely different to those used in the South.

The sheet included word comparisons for commonly used goods and services, a hotel official said.

For example, a vegetable is called chaeso in the South and namsae in the North.

“Our training, which included the lecture, as well as our one-page guidelines, was aimed at preventing any potential conflicts that could arise from cultural differences,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Ahead of the Games, which formally opened on Friday, South Korea’s government distributed guidelines to organizers, listing do’s and don’ts for when they meet North Koreans, an official at the Pyeongchang organizing committee said.

North and South Korea speak the same language based on the Hangeul alphabet, but differences have emerged since the 1950-1953 conflict that left the two sides in a technical state of war.

The differences are particularly challenging for female ice hockey players from the two Koreas, who were asked just a few weeks ago to compete as one nation, the Canadian head coach of the joint team, Sarah Murray, told a news conference on Sunday last week.

There are “three” languages in one team, she said, referring to English, South Korean and North Korean.

South Koreans frequently used English words not understood by the northerners, she added.

“For our team meetings, it is going through to English to South Korean to North Korean. So the meetings take three times as long,” Murray said.

The team has compiled its own “dictionary” of different ice hockey terms to better communicate with each other, she said.

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