But modern surgical techniques may be about to change all this, as news emerges that the world's first Hangeul operation has been conducted on a 19 year-old British girl, who says her tongue wasn't long enough to pronounce the Korean letter 'L', which by common agreement in Korea is always pronounced differently to the way any foreigner sounds it no matter what, providing one of many reasons for Koreans not to understand - or misunderstand - what is being said to them. In scientifically logical Hangeul the 'ㄹ' character, which is sometimes transliterated as 'L' or 'R', is always written but its pronunciation changes depending on the context, and sometimes it is silent, except when it isn't.
Foreigners have often wrongfully accused Koreans of freezing in panic when confronted with a Korean-speaking foreigner, but as 55 year-old Professor Kim at Seoul International University explains "This is actually cleverly disguised practiced disinterest. Foreigners really have little of interest to say." And while Koreans are famous throughout the world for their warmheartedness, the non-pure-blooded frequently misinterpret this surface friendliness as a willingness to seriously listen to their views - or even worse, accept them - when it is clearly the height of arrogance to think that Koreans should accept foreign ideas which are obviously wrong. "Koreans want foreigners to admire them and they want foreigners to accept Korea's cultural superiority, but they don't want foreigners to be just like them, otherwise it dilutes the unique ubiquitousness of the Korean experience." added Professor Kim.
Many agree that the British girl's case raises further serious questions for Korea over where the dividing line between pure-blooded Koreans and foreigners trying to be Korean really lies, and whether they should be prevented from entering Korea in order to protect people here who might otherwise feel uncomfortable by their attempt at close infiltration, given this country's unhappy history with previous infiltrations and invasions.
The debate had already been taking place in the media, after the case last year involving another non-pure-blooded British citizen, who suffered a major road accident with a Korean which was totally his fault, but which nevertheless obligated Korean doctors to give him extensive blood transfusions. The Korean Red Cross has determined that British people have dirty blood, so he could not receive transfusions from his fellow countrymen, and instead had to be given highly-prized Korean blood due to the urgency of the situation, a potentially ill-considered decision which medical experts have said left him completely pure-blooded. The 33 year-old man, who subsequently changed his name to Kim Yong-guk, eventually had to be granted additional legal rights and his company had to issue a memo to all its staff directing them to take him more seriously despite his foreign appearance.
Tongue-lengthening has long been a popular operation in Korea, since studies have shown that students with longer tongues are statistically more likely to achieve higher grades at university level, although there are some gender discrepancies in the research and the reasons for these results are not entirely clear. But the practice has been largely kept quiet for reasons of academic competitiveness, and it is extremely unlikely that any self-respecting cosmetic surgeon would agree to perform such a procedure on a foreigner in Korea. Nevertheless, Korean cultural protection groups are calling on the government to ensure that foreigners are specifically prevented from undergoing such surgery.
Despite some attempts by the Korean government to apply Korean law outside Korea, notably in the field of drug taking, legal experts suggest that foreign governments are unlikely to accommodate Korea's friendly and warmhearted demands for them to prevent more of their citizens from undergoing Hangeul surgery, potentially exposing Korea to an incoming flood of foreigners who can speak Korean well enough to have to be vaguely listened to.
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