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Rue de France is a new Franco-Korean nexus

July 15,2019
The French Embassy in Seodaemun, western Seoul, sits at the heart of the newly rechristened “Rue de France,” or “France-ro,” seen on signs hanging at left. [JEON TAE-GYU]
Francophiles seeking to indulge their Gallic tendencies know that Seorae Village in Seocho District, southern Seoul, is considered one of the best places in town to do so. Yet through City Hall’s June 21 honorary rechristening of the 300-meter (984-foot) sliver of Seosomun-ro that abuts the French Embassy as “Rue de France,” or “France-ro,” the street in Seodaemun, western Seoul, hopes to vie for the title of cultural center.

The specific choice was made after much deliberation, the process having begun in June 2018. Ultimately, this process was solidified after the embassy broached the matter with officials and “engaged in talks with neighbors in Hap-dong, including restaurant owners and shopkeepers, to explain the project and get their views,” explained Thomas Biju-Duval, a political counselor at the embassy.

Though the street has hosted elements of French culture for some time - the embassy was established in 1959 and a number of French and French-inspired gastronomic spaces, such as Le Chef Bleu, a restaurant run by chef Laurent Dallet, the embassy’s chef-in-residence, and Cafe Namu - the new name hopes to inspire Seoulites’ curiosity and to incite them to “go to France,” said Mun Seok-jin, district mayor of Seodaemun.

The street, the first to receive an honorary designation, hosts the annual Fete de la Musique, which recently saw its third edition and was the occasion of the announcement.

Biju-Duval also emphasized that the embassy could “envisage that other cultural events [could] take place in this street.”

By stressing the nexus of Franco-Korean relations, the embassy hopes to contribute to the neighborhood’s development, hoping that “anyone, no matter of where [they come] from, will be curious to walk in this street, enter its multiple restaurants and shops, and discover its traditional hanok [traditional Korean houses] houses,” while “preserving its wonderful architectural heritage.”

Though the street bears the European republic’s name, it is not, Biju-Duval noted, an extension of the embassy. Instead, the name symbolizes Korea and France’s friendship, and is meant to encourage further exchanges between the two countries. Upon inquiry, a store owner mused that he didn’t think the titular change could impact tourism in the negative, saying, “It can only help.”

To facilitate the dispersion of French history and Gallic culture, the embassy has also decided to hang signs emblazoned with the French Tricolour, as well as the street’s new name in both hangul and French. Brochures introducing the amenities available within the street and the wider neighborhood have been made available in nearby subway stations, as well as in the establishments themselves.

On Sunday, France celebrated la fete nationale, or Bastille Day, the annual celebration marking the symbolic Storming of the Bastille, a turning point in the French Revolution 230 years ago. It’s a day often celebrated with friends and family, and, more importantly, cheese, charcuterie, wine and fireworks. Reflections upon the three tenets central to the French Republic - liberty, equality and fraternity - typically mark these occasions.

Though embassy-sponsored celebrations took place on the Floating Islands on the Han River Friday, Biju-Duval noted that France-ro will, perhaps, play some part in future celebrations for Francophone and Francophile alike in the years to come.

BY LIAM REILLY [liam.reilly95@gmail.com]