Disclaimer: I do not own Axis Powers Hetalia. I am also neither French nor Korean, so there may be inaccuracies, as I base most of what I know on my research online. I just really enjoy writing stories which require me to obtain random trivia on various topics. I love trying to incorporate as much trivia as possible into my works. For example, the chapter titles of this fic in the navigation bar are written in both French and hangul...
...you just looked at the chapter titles, didn't you? :P
C'EST LA VIE
#5 – Smile (+)
South Korea wasn't deaf to the musings floating around on his unexpected friendship with France. If he strained his ears enough, he could hear just what the other nations were whispering among themselves in the hallways when he and the Frenchman would head to the conference room to attend the World Conference.
France didn't seem to hear them though, always striding confidently. South Korea tried to ignore it at first, tried not to let it get to him, but it just proved to become harder and harder to do with the strengthening relationship between their countries. The whispers were growing louder, occurring more often, becoming more and more criticizing. Sometimes, he'd glance over his shoulder to let them know he knew what they were talking about, but they'd just hide their eyes and turn away to continue their hushed gossip.
After hearing a particularly acrid conversation between England and Japan, the Korean found their many questions running through his mind, but they all boiled down to the same one: Just why were he and France friends in the first place?
He understood why it surprised so many. They were just so…different from each other. France leisurely takes pride in his past as a powerful nation in Europe, while South Korea is racing towards the future as a rising power in Asia. Their homes are practically on opposite sides of the world, and their cultures and traditions are just contrasting.
You didn't even need to look into their backgrounds to see the difference. You just needed to have eyes. China has come to nickname the pair 'Taijitu,' and the young Asian can see why. France fits the role of the light, white yang quite well with his blond hair and blue eyes, and South Korea of the dark, black yin with his black hair and brown eyes. Even their personalities form a Taijitu. The more he thinks about it, the more he notices the little differences that set them apart: France not taking off his shoes when entering a shop, South Korea fumbling with what spoon to use during formal dinners…
The Asian decides that it's about time that they both discussed the matter, since it seems that everyone else has. He takes the opportunity after one of their private meet-ups for cultural exchange. He suggests the two of them eat out to take their minds off that particularly long French lesson. They spend some time walking down the sidewalk together before they finally settle for a small café and order cake and coffee.
South Korea mulls over how he's going to tell the Frenchman about their predicament. He feels that he finally has the words when France speaks, "You're worried about something,non?" South Korea was so deep in thought that he did not notice France observing him from the other side of the table, steepling his fingers.
Any forethought is forgotten, and the Korean is reduced to a stuttering mess. "Y-ye! I-I mean, y-yes. How did you know?"
France smirks as he holds up his coffee cup. "You underestimate me, petit Corée. I pride myself with ze lofty title of 'Grand Frère.' What kind of big brother would I be if I can't even tell when mon petit chou is upset?" He motions to South Korea with his cup. "Especially when ze signs are so obvious! Your hands are balled on your lap, and you've been gaping like a fish for who knows how long! If you want to say something, just say it, mon ami!" he teases.
The younger nation raises his hand to scratch the back of his head and lets out a shy laugh. "Hehe...that obvious?" He lowers his hand and looks straight at France. Dark eyes meet light ones, and he remembers why he dragged the two of them here. He confesses, "Actually, I wanted to ask you...why are we friends?"
France doesn't reply; he just acknowledges the question with a nod, but opts to drink his coffee instead. Worried, South Korea adds as an afterthought, "T-that is if you consider me as your friend, of course. I just assumed because I see France-ssi as my friend...unless that isn't the case, and if so, I'm sorry for making such an assumption..."
The Frenchman gently settles his coffee cup on the saucer. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm just curious, that's all-"
"Is it because of ze gossip in ze conference room?"
South Korea is taken aback. "O-oh. So you have heard it. And all this time I thought you didn't know..."
"Mon ami, like I said, I would be a disgrace if I could not tell something as simple as zat," he says simply and flashes a knowing smile.
"So you really knew the whole time?"
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"Non. Why? Does it bother you?" He makes a dismissing wave. "Nevermind ze last question. It's rhetorical. Of course, it bothers you! You went through ze trouble of bringing me here."
"So…ye…we're so different, so how can we be-" he pauses, "-friends?"
He watches intently as France takes his time considering the question. South Korea needs to know now just what the two of them are and when they would fall out, so he can prepare his heart.
He and France would fall out eventually, he knew that. It happened before with China, with Japan, with North Korea. If he fell out with the brothers he grew up with, how much sooner would he fall out with this European, whom he met by accident not even two centuries ago?
The blond finally replies, "I zink it's time for another French lesson…"
The ravenet persists, "But you haven't even answered my question ye-!"
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."
South Korea looks up. "Huh?"
"Translate it for me. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," France repeats, this time more slowly, punctuating every accent.
Dark eyebrows furrow in concentration. "'The more…the more things change…the more they stay the same'?"
The blond rewards him with a nod. "Zat is correct. Your French is getting better, mon ami."
"But what do you mean by that?"
"I mean what I mean. Oui, we're different in so many ways. But despite all zat, do we not get along? Do we not have many similar interests? Do we not enjoy our time together?"
"I think we do…do you?" South Korea can't be too assuming. They hurt him too many times before.
"Of course I do, mon ami! If I didn't, I wouldn't have let you drag me here at such short notice, even less meet you regularly for cultural exchange lessons."
"But that could be just to strengthen our foreign relations…"
France throws his hands up in surrender. "Sacre bleu! Will nothing convince you, mon ami?!"
South Korea grabs the other's hands on instinct and pins them against the table, so as to avoid making a scene. "I-I'm sorry! I just want to be sure!"
The Korean's folded palms tremble against the back of France's hands, and they take a sudden interest in the way their hands cup around each other, as the nations choose to stare at them rather than each other. They don't move for a while, don't even speak. They look like the motionless subjects of a blown-up photograph, the café's window acting as their frame.
Finally, the older man, without even raising his head, utters a single word, "Francis."
The youth raises his eyes. "Come again?"
"I see now that you have the right to doubt, since we don't even know each other's names." France pries his hands from under the grip to pull up his chair. He leans forward. "Let me introduce myself properly then. Je ireum-eun Francis Bonnefoy imnida," he says carefully, his nasally French accent seeping into his Korean.
The Korean can only blink in surprise upon hearing this, stunned. His lips quiver as he says, "Your name is… Pyoolanseesu Panehpui-ssi?" His accent is thick, and he has trouble saying what France said with such ease.
"Ye. But please drop ze formalities. Just call me 'Francis.'"
The youth fumbles with the words, "프란시스…Peulansiseu…"
"My name starts with an 'f,' mon ami, not a 'p.' Francis," the older man corrects.
"PyoolansiSU…" the youth tries again, his voice rising at the end of the word.
"F-Francis-ssi..." South Korea whispers to himself. This…this was unexpected. Nations, as familiar as they are with each other, only ever called each other by their country names. And France…Francis just revealed his human name. His human name.
Human names are precious, intimate things for nations. They as heavily guarded as their national heirlooms. They are the pieces of their former lives before taking up the responsibility of becoming a country. They are the mantras they silently chant to themselves when they feel themselves slipping away. They are the last traces of their humanity. They are the last things that belong to them and them alone.
They belong in the hearts of their family, of their most trusted friends, of people. Just when was the last time someone told South Korea their human name? And when was the last time he entrusted someone else his own? It was so long ago, and those memories are as hazy as wisps of smoke, but he still remembers the warmth that bloomed in his chest when he first heard them…the tingle he felt right when he heard the name 'Wang Yao' whispered into one of China's lullabies… the heat rising to his cheeks when he was told that he had keep the blindfold on and keep playing as the oni in their game of Kagome Kagome, as 'Honda Kiku' was the one behind him, not Japan…
It is the same warmth that flushes his entire body as he replays Francis' name over and over again in his mind. The feeling of trust between two people.
He does not reply when Francis first pipes, "Corée?" Not even the second time when Francis repeats the question more nervously.
By the third time, South Korea has made his decision. "Non, not Corée," he says firmly."Je m'appelle Im Yong Soo."
A look of surprise paints Francis' face, but he relaxes and leans against the back of his seat in relief. "My apologies." He lets the words roll off his tongue, "So your name is Eema Yung Thu, oui?"
The Asian shakes his head. "Aniyo. Yong Soo."
"Extend the 'oo' sound. Yong SOOOOOO."
"Now, you just sound like you're sneezing," Yong Soo comments.
"You're no better, mon ami. You make my name sound like one of Japan's pocket monsters," Francis rebuts.
Yong Soo sticks out his tongue, and Francis shrugs his shoulders in reply, raising a cupped hand in victory.
"But all joking aside, it is quite understandable. Like you said, our languages are very different. But it's alright. We'll both get ze pronunciations right eventually, since we'll be spending a lot of time together from now on, oui?" Francis chirps, and he gives Yong Soo a wink.
Yong Soo can only nod. "Y-ye."
Francis chuckles and offers his right hand to the youth. "Bonjour…Yong Soo."
Yong Soo hesitates at first, but stretches his own hand across the table, and the two shake hands.
The Asian retracts his hand from Francis', and in one graceful movement, presses both his palms on the table to give the European a low bow. "Annyeong haseyo...Francis."
He silently mouths the name 'Francis Bonnefoy,' etching it into his mind. It sounds so foreign to him…so different from his brothers' names. The family name comes AFTER the personal name! And France told him to call him 'Francis' without any honorifics! Not 'Bonnefoy-ssi' or even 'Francis-ssi,' but just 'Francis'! Confucius would be turning in his grave if he even heard the idea. But it doesn't matter because it's his friend's name...his friend's name! And not because any French leaders told Francis to, but because Francis decided on his own, and they'd aren't forced to hang out together, but because they wanted to, and-!
Yong Soo is rambling in his head like an idiot, and he knows he's smiling like one too, but he can't help it.
He knows Francis can see it because the blond leans forward, propping his chin on his palm. "Yong Soo, I see zat you are smiling…mind translating zat for me?"
Yong Soo laughs as he says, "It's another way of saying 'I'm happy,' in Korean, Francis."
Francis has a smile that matches Yong Soo's. "What a coincidence! It means the same thing in French."
+ (5) Smile
- According to a Readers' Digest article I read a few years ago, it was once speculated that the meaning of a smile differed greatly from one culture to another. While there may be a few variations in its meaning (i.e. a Japanese would smile to save face in embarrassing situations, while an American would smile to show he/she is amused), it is more or less a universal expression of happiness. Studies show that smiling helps release oxytocin, which is known as 'the cuddle hormone' and plays a key role in bonding. A person who cannot smile is very limited in his/her ability to pass on information and relate to other people.
- "Ye" (hangul: 예) is Korean for "yes," while "aniyo" for "no."
- "Je ireum-eun _ imnida" and "Je m'appelle _" means "My name is _," in Korean and in French respectively…or at least that what my research says.
- The translated quote, 'The more things change, the more they remain the same' is attributable to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1908 – 1990). Karr's actual words were: 'plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose' (Les Guêpes) It's a proverb that basically means, "Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo."
- Taijitu, commonly referred as the yin-yang symbol by Western scholars, is a term which refers to a Chinese symbol for the concept of yin and yang (Taiji). I see Francis' and Yong Soo's relationship as opposites living in harmony.
- Kagome Kagome (かごめかごめ, or 籠目籠目) is a Japanese children's game and the song associated with it. One player is chosen as the oni (literally demon or ogre, but similar to the concept of "it" in tag) and sits blindfolded (or with their eyes covered). The other children join hands and walk in circles around the oni while chanting the song for the game. When the song stops, the oni tries to name the person standing directly behind them.
- Koreans typically have difficulty hearing the difference between the f, v, b, and p sound, as the f and v don't really exist in their native language, and the b and p are often interchangeable.
- I tried emphasizing on their accents in the later parts of the story. According to my own opinion and the opinions of other non-French- and non-Korean-speaking people online, the French accent sounds nasally and tends to include a twang at the ends of the words. The Korean accent, on the other hand, tends to sound clipped, and the pitch rises at the end, so it sounds like one is asking a question all the time. In my opinion, it sounds less rough than most East Asian languages, but more long-winded than Japanese.
- To be honest, I was playing around with Google Translate to hear the pronunciations in their languages. In Korean, Francis becomes "프란시스 (Peulansiseu)." I had trouble with French, so I tried pin down the pronunciation using English phonemes. I apologize in advance if the pronunciations end up wrong, as I am neither French nor Korean.
- Confucianism, which plays a very big role in East Asia's cultures, believes that the family is the central unit of the society and places the family before the self. This is why the family name traditionally comes before the personal name for East Asians, and why Yong Soo finds Francis' name so strange.
A/N: I was planning to include four prompts in this chapter, but the "Smile" prompt ended up being much longer than expected.
I personally prefer referring to the Hetalia characters by their human names. I've always enjoyed the concepts of them being humans before becoming nations and of exchanging human names as a sort of personal pact of trust between them. I've read a doujin and a fanfic that touched these matters very interestingly, and I wanted to try incorporating it into this story. It also allows fanwork makers to have more liberties with these characters and avoid insulting other people's heritages. Hetalia is all about fun and learning, after all. Knowledge is power!
The next chapter will include genderbends and human AUs.
As always, please feel free to leave short prompts in your reviews or PM them to me, whether it be silly, sad, sappy, etc. (Just not too smutty though, as I'd like to avoid writing a boring PWP as much as possible) I'd love to read and write them. :D