Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bathroom Blues

Cultural Anecdotes, Part III
In our ongoing series on cultural faux pas, a young American girl was visiting her German guy-friend's family. Before sitting down to dinner, she asked where the bathroom was. Following their directions, she indeed found herself in the bathroom -- but there was no toilet.
Too embarrassed to go out and ask where the toilet was, she -- you guessed it -- decided to just use the sink. No one would have ever known if the sink had not broken loose from the wall under her weight. Embarrassed now?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cowboys and Arabs

Our criteria for what makes a movie worth watching are as diverse as the cultures to whom this blog is intended. Some consider a film worthwhile only if it has a happy ending (a particularly American syndrome).

One of my criteria for a worthwhile film is whether it makes me think. My wife and I went to see “Body of Lies” the other night, and I came away thinking.

Without having read David Ignatius’ book, I can only take the film at face value. Was the Ed Hoffman character (played by Russell Crow) an intentional caricature of the stereotypical American cowboy with some very sophisticated toys he’s not afraid to use on people he’s never taken the time to understand? (It irks my Mississippi-born wife to no end that these characters always have southern accents.) Are we to extrapolate and believe that everyone in the U.S. intelligence community is cut from the same cloth? Whether or not that’s the case (and I still dare to hope it’s not), Hoffman’s line toward the end of the film (“After all, what is to like about this place?”) reflects an undeniable fact: many of us simply don’t see anything to like about, in this case, “these Arabs.” You could replace the word “Arabs” with countless other names, depending on what culture you live in and who your traditional enemies are.

I once had a voice student in Switzerland whose example left an indelible impression on me. She was from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, a relatively small area and unfortunately susceptible to the traditional French prejudice toward Germans and German speakers. Aware of this prejudice in her own heart, this lady actually sought out a job in Zurich, the largest city in the larger German-speaking area of Switzerland –- simply to find something to like about those German speakers! Needless to say, she was not disappointed, and to this day has maintained several close friendships there.

Enough said. Or perhaps not.

Welcome to Water Cooler Wednesday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Justice is what love looks like in public..."

Slavery is very much alive in the 21st century. With over 27 million people in bondage around the world, a collection of musicians--including Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Matisyahu, and Talib Kweli--gather together to make a stand for justice. Harvard professor Cornel West (whose quote is the title of this post), former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and actress Ashley Judd lend their perspectives in this "rocumentary" that offers a provocative call to action.

Click here to see if Call + Response is showing in your city.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can you say 'faux pas'?

Cultural Anecdotes, Part II

Thanks to those of you who responded with your own cultural faux pas stories. Unfortunately, they all came through Facebook and are therefore not posted on this site. That darn Facebook is just too convenient.

Here are a couple that have come through:
On the first day of classes, a university freshman in the States who has been raised in Europe and learned English only from her mother and foreign language classes, asks a classmate for a rubber. (Don't get it? Ask someone.)

In one of my own French classes years ago, one of my students, who is a recording artist, was trying to tell me how her husband's voice blends well with her own. She was making a gargantuan effort, truly; but instead of saying 'He blends,' she said 'He changes my diaper.'

And finally, a dear friend who was living in Switzerland and learning French thought she knew a thing or two about predicting whether a pregant woman's baby would be a boy or a girl, depending on how the woman was carrying the baby. In faltering French, but confident it was a boy, she proudly informed the dubious woman that it was going to be a fish.

Keep them coming! And post them here so non-Facebook members can appreciate them!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Under the Weather

Cultural Anecdotes, Part I

I lived for a number of years in Australia as a child. Even though my memories of that time are somewhat sketchy, I remember my parents recounting, through tears of laughter, the lessons they learned about the differences between Australian and American vocabulary. Some of these lessons they learned firsthand; others they learned through (or rather at the expense of) other visiting Americans.

For example, one American couple had been in Perth just a few days. The wife had come down with a bug of some sort and had stayed at the hotel. When asked where his wife was, the gentlemen forlornly replied that she was under the weather, so had to stay behind.

If you're from a present or former British Commonwealth country, you already see the problem here. If you're not, you're probably not aware that in those countries, "under the weather" means very, very drunk.

The American gentleman was a pastor.

Stay tuned for more -- and in the meantime, send me YOUR faux pas anecdotes!