[Listening from the Ambassador] Philippe Lefort Ambassador of France to Korea “Reading is a physical need to me… I read every day”
[Listening from the Ambassador] Philippe Lefort Ambassador of France to Korea “Reading is a physical need to me… I read every day”
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  • 승인 2020.01.07 18:45
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The ambassador directly and indirectly supports bilateral cultural exchanges as well as diplomatic negotiations in the countries dispatched based on authority granted by the head of state. The ambassador's words are regarded as the most reliable source of information about the country because the ambassador in the host country has the same symbolism. As part of the 'Reading Korea' campaign, the Reading Newspaper have prepared a time to learn about each country's culture and arts through foreign ambassadors stationed in Korea.


[Readersnews Seo mit-eum] Paris is the capital of France and the Eiffel Tower is a symbol of the city. France is in Western Europe and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. France covers an area of ​​ 632,733 km2, ie one fifth of the EU or 2.5 times the size of the Korean peninsula.

France is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (with Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and China) and one of the founding members of the European Union. It is a military, scientific, democratic and cultural power and French invented the syringe, the bicycle, the neon, the hot air balloon, the steam car and the law of conservation of mass. It is a scientific power and French invented the common metric system used all over the world. France is also a democratic power which gave the power to the people (French revolution). French democracy protects individuals and limits the authority of the State.

France is also a cultural power with great authors such as Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), author of Les Trois Mousquetaires, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, Victor Hugo (1802-1885), author of Notre Dame de Paris, Les Misérables and the Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus (1913-1960) who wrote L’étranger. It is also the country with the largest number of Nobel Prize laureates in Literature (15).

The reading rate in France (23% according to OECD 2015 data) far exceeds Korea’s rate (8.4%). Demand for cultural diversity is also very strong and the market share of a film cannot exceed 30% in French movie theaters. [HD1] Consequentely, there is no “screen monopoly” and it allows a diversity of choices for the audience.

Furthermore, France experienced in the end of the 19th century a declining birthrate. However, the French social model, which aims at being fair and equitable, is one of the reasons why France has one of the highest fertility rates in the EU today.

I visited the French Embassy located in Seodaemun-gu in order to meet Ambassador Philippe Lefort, who took up his post in Korea last September, and who is the representative of France in Korea. I crossed firstly the Embassy’s garden, which was certainly beautiful in autumn with red and golden leaves, and then I met Ambassador Philippe Lefort in his Residence, which is remarkable for the beauty of its Korean style. The Residence of France has been designed by the architect Kim Jung-up (1922-1988). Ambassador Lefort firstly talked about Korean culture and presented the ceiling of the living room, which is a reproduction of Kim Jeong-ho’s map of Korea (Daedongyeo-jido). Then I asked him about France.

Q. Selected as a <Reading Books korea: hear from ambassador>. Please Say hello to readers of The <Reading Newspaper> with your thoughts.

A. Korea is a fantastic country and it is a privilege to live here with my family. My life is all about reading and I was very happy about the interview request from The Reading Newspaper. I am especially pleased to meet readers from Korea, which is a ‘country that enjoys reading books’. Korea is one of the nations of books that put emphasis on reading. Reading has always occupied an important -and sometimes predominant- part in my life. To me, reading is like a physical need and when I look back, there wasn’t a single day that went without reading since I have learnt to read. I cannot spend a day without reading. The only exception was when I took part to a cycling race. It was not possible for me to read because I rode my bike during three days.

Q. I heard that you are studying Korean from a year ago. In fact, there are not many such ambassador hard learning korean. Can I take it as a love for Korea? I wonder the reason.

A. I still have a long way to go. “Very difficult” (in Korean). I think speaking and thinking cannot be separated, language constitutes the framework of thoughtand this is why I have started to learn Korean. The Korean language is Korea’s soul. Learning Korean is therefore the key to a better understanding of Korea’s and Koreans’ soul, which is basically my mission here.

Q. I Heared that you expressed will to strengthen cultural cooperation between the two countries. I'd like to know about future plans.

A. First, we will continue to promote French authors and diffuse their works. Currently, Institut Français is conducting a publication and translation support fund program for translation of books from French writers into Korean. Last year, twenty-six booksbenefited from this support.. In addition to these activities, a new specific fund will be established in 2020 to translate and publish the works of French-speaking authors of foreign nationality. We are also actively working on French writers’ and publishers’ visits to Korea. On the occasion of the Seoul International Book Fair, I would like more and more French writers and publishers to participate. Moreover, we are planning This year to make the first Asian edition of the ‘quai du polar’at the Seoul International Book Fair.. As Koreans love mystery novels as much as French people, it would be a pleasure to introduce famous French mystery writers to Korean readers. In addition, we will continue active exchanges in the comics field. I have a special affection for comics by the way. This is thanks to the comics that I learned to read when I was a kid.In the future, we plan to strengthen cooperation with KOMACON and continue to participate in the Bucheon International Comics Festival (BICOF).

Q. France started the screen quota system and the book price system before Korea. There is a divergence of opinion in Korea because there are both merits and demerits. How is the situation in France?

A. There’s a "1981 Act" for promoting the cultural industry in France. The basic spirit of the 1981 Act was that cultural goods should be distinguished from general goods, which justified the restriction of some commercial activities or the imposition of appropriate sanctions within a certain framework. There has been much discussion in this regard, and consensus has been reached that small business in the fields of publishing and film distribution should be protected. Recently, e-books have been included in that law to protect them.

Q. Is the promotion system related to paper books applied entirely to e-books?

A. In France, the same regulations apply to e-books. The book industry's rules related to the production and distribution of created works apply to the digital world as well, and various portal sites that provide texts in French are subject to those rules. In order to protect the legitimate rights of the creators, publishers set domestic and international e-content prices, so when a retailer like Amazon enters France and sells an e-book, the e-book is sold at a price set by a French retailer. You can't sell it at a lower price.[HD2]

Q. Best sellers are bound to reflect social trends. What is the most popular book in France now? Why?

A. Autumn is the season of literary prizes in France. Many books are presented and prize winning books generally have high sales. To name a few among the winners of the year: Goncourt winner Jean-Paul Dubois, “All humans do not live the world the same way” (original title: Tous les hommes n'habitent pas le monde de la même façon), Renaudot winner Sylvain Tesson's Snow Leopard (original title: La panthère des neiges), Femina winner Sylvain Prudhomme's Way (original title: Par les routes) and Médicis Award was won by Luc Lang's “Temptation” (original title: La tentation).

One of the titles that marked this season is Karine Tuil's novel, “Human things” (original title: Les choses humaines) winner of both Goncourt high-school student prize of and Interallié, is about violence against women, an important topic which mobilizes French society today.[HD3]

Q. Books about French parenting are popular in Korea. Why do you think the French parenting is attracting worldwide attention?

A. It is a French tradition to focus on pedagogy and education. . French philosophers have been interested for a long time in children's education, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau's with “L’Emile”. Education has always fascinated French people and we have never stopped questioning ourselves in this area Recently, the government set up a commission chaired by the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik to build a "first 1000 days of the child" The purpose of this commission is to make recommendations on maternal or parental leave,, health care, nutrition, childcare and education, education of caregivers, , father's place, etc., which can lead to educational and legislative reforms. We want to build a policy to support parenthood in France.

Q. The high interest in childcare and education seems similar to that of Korea. I am curious about the French education system.

A. We are like the Koreans with the Baek-il, we share the same intuition that the first days, weeks, months or even years of the life of a human being are decisive for his future In France, children are sent to school (kindergarten) from the age of three to work very early on the socialization of the child . At school, we offer education that enhances creativity and sociality through free activitiesin a context of rapport with each other and respect for others.. Personally, I think social abilities to interact with others should be created early and as well as reading habit. We think that it is at this tender age that we must begin to develop their knowledge, creativity, language etc. Learning begins in the nursery section, through both educational and creative activities (painting, drawing.) And of course reading. Every school has a library or resource center, and children learn to look for a book. Such lessons are taught at the two French schools in Seoul, the Lycée Français de Seoul and Lycée International Xavier adopt these models.

Q. Last year, South Korea recorded the lowest birth rate ever. on the other hand, France has a growing birth rate. I want to know the Know-how.

A. The birth rate in France is stable. The birth rate per woman was 1.9 in 2016 and 1.8 in 2018, the highest in the EU. This is the result of the various support policies France has implemented and I would like to say two things about it. The first is that France established a long-term family support policy :this rate is possible in France because we have policies that last in the long term. The effects are visible sometimes 10, 15, 30 years after the implementation of the measures.

Secondly, there can be no dramatic effect with just one specific policy. This rate is not the result of a single measure but of a combination of factors. Of course, financial incentives are an important part of these policies, but they also involve other measures, such as education, housing and labor law, and help mothers going back to work after career breaks.

Also, when developing such a policy, It is necessary to adapt family policy to the evolution of society In addition to traditional family, it is important to pay attention to and support new parenting models, such as single-parent family, unmarried couple family, and step-families. The key here is that governments should have a support policy that ensures maximum autonomy for individuals or families. For this reason, France does not strive to achieve birth goals represented by numbers. There may be one child, two or five : they can have as many children as they want It is a matter of choice for women and families. The government, however, must provide support for the choice, and the best policy is to provide support for women's balance between family life and profesional life.

Q. Is there any Korean culture that you would like to introduce to France?

A. I found an interesting field that is not yet well known in France. It is called “Feng shui”. I think the concept of Korean understanding of space and the world is feng shui. This Residence, where we’re having the interview, is also known to have been built with reference to feng shui by the architect Kim Jung-up. Feng shui could be one of Korean culture that would make French enthusiastic. It could be a field of great interest for French people.

Q. Is there any French food you would like to recommend to Korean people?

A. Since childhood, I used to eat and enjoy a “galette” made of buckwheat (also known as crêpe in Korea, a buckwheat thin pancake). They are prepared with butter, sausages, eggs, or jambon (a type of ham). In Korea, I found the same dough of buckwheat by chance, the buckwheat noodles. It was interesting to see that different foods are made from the same ingredients, and the discovery was very pleasant.

Q. Is there a place to recommend a trip to France?

A. France is located in the center of Europe and all the dishes are represented on the Mediterranean side and its transparent seas, up to the Atlantic facade, the great waves of the ocean, the forests, the mountains, villages, traditional landscapes, urban landscapes. I believe that all France is touristic actually. We have very strict measures to preserve our rural and urban landscapes. For example, when you go to Paris, you are in the city of the 19th century. In the city of Troyes, the capital of Champagne, you are in a medieval town. The landscapes of Provence are almost identical to those of the 17th century or the Gallo-Roman period city.

2 places that I particularly like: the city of Lyon, where I was born, and Brittany, which is the country of my ancestors. Lyon is a fascinating city which represents 2000 years of history. You still have on a hill in Lyon, the first Roman city. It is a city that has developed in a very important way in the Middle Ages but which keeps a medieval district well preserved. It is a town associated with François Rabelais, one of my favorite French authors, where he served as a doctor.

Today, it is a city that has dramatically developed its annual tradition of putting candles along the windows on the feast of the virgin held on 8/12: "la fête des lumières" (Lyon lights festival). It is now an important event in Europe.

Q. Please introduce about three books that helpful understanding France or the impressive book that you read personally.

A. The first book I would recommend is “The French” (original title: Les Français) by the English writer Theodore Zeldin. Zeldin also wrote a five-volume “French passions’ history” (original title: Histoire des passions françaises), you will see how much French and Korean have in common speaking of honor, politics…

Next, I would like to recommend René Grousset's “Results of History” (original title: Bilan de l'histoire), which had a great influence on my life. The author, a member of the Academy (Academy Francaise), is not very popular, but is very famous among French intellectuals interested in Asian culture. One of his books is Eurasian Nomadic Empire History (original title: L'Empire des Steppes), which I know is published in Korean. It is an extensive study on the interrelationship with civilizations in Southeast Asia, and it reflects what culture is, what civilization is, and how civilization was created in the beginning, developed, and destroyed.

The third book is François Rabelais' masterpieces, “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel”, written in the 16th century Renaissance, a long time before the two previous books. These books are comic stories about giants who learn about the world and culture. I think those books reflect the French spirit aspiring to understand the world better and trying to make it a better place.

[HD1]Demand for cultural diversity is also very strong. For instance, in France, a cinema has to commit to devote no more than 30% of its screenings to the same film at the same time.

[HD2]This law gives the publisher the power to fix the same selling price for all the resellers, eather from France or from abroad. This law supports fair competition. Thus, platforms reselling e-books like Amazon will have to align their prices set by French retailers and will therefore not be able to offer a lower price.

[HD3]Il manque toute une partie qui a duré assez longtemps. Il a parlé du Grenelle sans le nommer.

This novel is about violence against women and gender equality issues, a priority subject of the French government, and which therefore mobilizes French society. Very recently, we closed the Grenelle against domestic violence, a big meeting on feminicides. Measures have been taken by the French government following this meeting to better identify risk situations, to allow victims to get help as quickly as possible, to sensitize the social services and police service on these situations. Fight violence against women is a high priority of the French government.

※ The Korean version of this article can be read in the related article below.

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