Hungary and Korea: many similarities

Gwan-Pyo Nam
April 27, 2013

Diplomacy & Trade regularly prints the accounts of personal experiences and thoughts by Ambassadors accredited to Budapest. This time, we publish the piece written for us by the Korean ambassador to Hungary, Gwan-Pyo Nam.

One and half years have passed since I came to Budapest. This is my first post in Europe during my diplomatic career which has been mostly focused in North America and Asia. However, it did not take long before I accommodated myself to life in Hungary. I feel comfortable and at home as if I have been living here for a long time. This may be related to my inner affinity for Hungary. I believe this is also true for other Korean expats living in this country.

This feeling of getting connected with Hungary might come from the fact that we have many things in common. Our languages originated from the same language family. Our racial traits are deemed to have been similar to each other a long time ago. We also share similar historical experiences. We have maintained our national identity against all the odds. We have suffered invasions from outside forces and have survived severe tribulations.

To give an example of our linguistic affinity, soon after I started my life in Budapest, I was often surprised by the Hungarian word "apa." "Apa" sounds like the Korean word "Ap-pa," which means dad. When I walked on the streets or strolled in shopping malls, I often overheard this "apa" and inadvertently turned my head in the direction the word came from. This sounded so similar to the Korean word that I initially mistook it for Korean.

The people of the two countries share similar sentiments, as well. For example, I felt such similarity in Hungarians’ sympathy with Korean film “Old Partner,” a documentary film made in 2008. Our Embassy screened it at the Korean film week in 2011. Actually, we were reluctant to choose this film to open the Korean film week because it did not have dynamic scenes or an amusing plot. It was a simple documentary of the life of an elderly couple with their cow in a small rural town spending more than 40 years together.

However, the Hungarian interns working at the Embassy unanimously recommended this documentary as the opening film because they believed that the movie would touch the hearts of Hungarians, just as it did those of Koreans. This film turned out to be a great success. Many audiences left the theater with teary eyes. I heard from many Hungarian friends that they were able to easily understand the feelings and emotions of the film.

Another similarity is connected to taste and flavor. Whenever I receive guests from Korea, I recommend Hungarian cuisine. Hungarian cuisine is unique in its flavors and consists of a wide variety of dishes. Also, it is known to be similar to Korean cuisine: Goulash tastes like Yukgaejang, which is a spicy, soup-like Korean dish made from shredded beef, scallions, and other ingredients simmered together for a long time; Fish soup has a distinct flavor similar to Mae-un tang, which is a hot spicy Korean fish soup boiled with gochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste), kochukaru (chili powder), and various vegetables; and, Hurka Sausage is the counterpart of Sundae, which is made generally by boiling or steaming cow’s or pig's intestines stuffed with various ingredients.

Red-colored Hungarian food whets the appetite of Koreans and makes them feel at home. When I encounter strings of garlic or paprika hanging under the eaves in the rural villages of Hungary, I feel like I am standing in a Korean hamlet, as it has the exact same practice.

This opportunity to spend a part of my life in Hungary gives me great happiness. Snow-covered scenes of Hungary in my photo albums are like postcards with lovely pictures. Literally, Budapest is a postcard-beautiful city. Every day, my heart fills with gladness and inspiration at the sight of the picturesque Danube. At such times, I pledge to myself that I will play a role in developing relations between Hungary and Korea in a mutually beneficial direction.

Gwan-Pyo Nam

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