Cross-cultural differences

Foreign languages always pose a problem. Even when the cultural differences are not that large, already misunderstandings may arise because of improper use. You can feel that on your wooden shoes. The use of language by people in culturally distant countries even more likely will result in funny, awkward cases. Being in South Korea a few caught my eye. In my apartment I have a washing machine. The model name (the brand in most likely LG, since most thinks are by LG) is Chaos. That would not be my first option, not even my 100th. I’m doing my first laundry washing so I am keeping an eye on the machine, especially the program controls are all in South Korean characters.

Yesterday I searched for an ATM accepting global bank cards. It being Saturday late afternoon, all banks were closed and the street ATMs only accepted Korean cards. Luckily I spotted a small convenience store with a global ATM. I went outside to mark the name: Buy the way. Whether this is really a mistake is debatable, since the alternative “By the way” seems strange as well. Maybe it is a creative twist. Further up the road, there was a small restaurant advertising Rear Meat. It’s uncommon to say the least. I would have thought ‘Rare Meat’ .  On the other hand, I am Dutch myself and maybe my English isn’t up to date to judge adequately. And yes, South Korea also has the sports clothing chain store called Athlete’s Foot.

Of course, this is a westerner’s view on Asian use of English. However, there is also the Asian view on westerners use of Asian languages. For instance, Asian characters are popular in tattooing. I hope for those people they are not the laughing stock of Asia, because of some misuse of characters. Lasering these off of the skin seems difficult and painful. Preparing for the blog entry I discoverd that you can earn a living by protecting ignorant westerners for meaningless tattoos!.

To see some more use of English, Asian style, visit If anyone has a similar examples of westerners’ misuse of Asian language characters, please post these in the comments.

Also in academics the use of English undergoes changes. Especially at conferences, talking to colleagues from different countries shows that academic English has many dialects. English is a dominant language in science and understandably not everyone or write can speak the language as fluently as native speakers do.  But sometimes I notice that I use incorrect English to increase mutual understanding. This is obviously a dangerous course of action,or isn’t it? Maybe this is how language evolves. For those that understand the Dutch language, watch the video of two Dutch comedians Koot and De Bie, impersonating a shop owner and a Turkish immigrant. Guess who speaks the Dutch language best…

On a more serious note, these intercultural differences are problematic from a cross-national comparative research project. Validity here is at stake, although progress has been made. See for example Harkness et al.’s Cross-Cultural Survey Methods published by Wiley. Mmm, succeeded to slip something scientific into this blog entry after all…

Note: the expression “You can feel that on your wooden shoes” is a literal translation of “Dat voel je op je klompen aan”. It means that something is very obvious.

Note 2 (11/11/2009): on English language skills, our first lady in Dutch rock, Anouk, has a new ‘video’ with only the lyrics. The song is good, but the lyrics are dreadful. This shows many people think English is easy, but it snot (pun intended).

Arrival in South Korea: television at the center of life?

Last Tuesday (September 25th) I left for South Korea for my first four month stretch working at the YeungNam University. So, first a lot of time spending at airports and in airplanes. Ever wondered why there are so little clocks at airports? Most likely there is some psychology at play here. Without clocks people probably go to the gate sooner than later. When they do know what the time is, they most likely tend to linger at an additional shop to by things, in the process delaying the flight.

From Dusseldorf to Paris to Inchun Airport (Seoul)  and subsequently to Daegu (also spelled as Taegu). In the Korean Airlines plane I had my first taste of Korean food (Bibimbap) and it was good.

At Daegu International Airport I was welcomed by representatives of YeungNam University . A short taxi drive immediately showed a major difference as compared to the Netherlands. Traffic safety is in the Netherlands highly valued. And therefore recently it was proposed to not only forbid talking on the mobile phone while driving a car, but also operating other equipment such as navigation software, radio, or a DVD player. Anyhow, getting into the taxi in South Korea, you guessed right, two TV’s: a smaller on the center console of the driver and a large one attached to the roof for the back seat passengers. From what I understand a soap opera was on. Of course one might argue, so what, you don’t need to watch a soap attentively to follow the story. True and the taxi driver drove fine. Maybe it’s more intended to keep passengers docile. This reminds me of a professor in Nijmegen. He complained that students were loud during classes. So he showed a soap episode in class while teaching the course: students were quit as never before.

Although Amsterdam has a problem with aggressive taxi drivers, I don’t think it’d be a solution to let them have TV in their car. Imagine what would happen if a customer would interrupt them viewing the latest episode of the Bold and the Beautiful…

Later in the week I discovered that not only taxi drivers have TV in their vehicle, but also scooter drivers, some even two: square boxes covering the small TVs to keep the sunlight away. Photographic evidence will hopefully appear soon on this blog.

Insight into the North Korean neighbor up north

While preparing for my journey to South Korea I stumbled upon the documentary Welcome to North Korea directed by Dutch filmmakers Peter Tetteroo and Raymond Feddema and winner of an Emmy Award.

It´s astonishing how the North Korean government succeeded to keep foreign media out of their country, apparently the only way to sustain the power balance as it exists now. Apparently, the first fast food restaurant was opened. At the same time Kim Jong-il’s health seems to be deteriorating. Inthe event of his death, one of his sons is likely to be successor. Lastly, the North Koreans want to restart negatiations on stopping their nuclear program.  Maybe these changes may lead to a relaxation of the tensed relations of North Korea with the rest of the world.

Anyhow, watch the open source documentary hosted by It’s not a Internet bite size length documentary but a lengthy 53 minute one. So sit down and relax.