Cross-Cultural Miscommunications

(This was written offline about 2 weeks ago….)

Cross-Cultural Miscommunications

Today as I was riding in a taxi through the city streets of Taipei I was reminded of a commercial from Denmark I once saw. In the commercial, which I saw a few times on the internet since it was so funny, a happy Danish family gets in their car for a trip and the after they’ve belted themselves in the father turns on the radio. From the radio comes a catchy rock-pop song and the family smiles, laughs and begins bopping to the beat as they begin their family trip. Now, the catch is that the pop song (which indeed was a nice catchy tune) consisted of the lyrics “I’m going to f*** you in the a**” repeated over and over again. As they drive off, the logo for an English school comes on the screen. A really funny ad, although it does occur to me that since the commercial isn’t subtitled in Danish real Danes watching the commercial who don’t know those choice words aren’t going to get the joke of the commercial.

So back to Rob in Taipei.

The current Mandarin pop song playing on the radio ends and another song starts, this one a hardcore urban dance number from the US entitled “Shake that A**” and including pretty much every choice swear word and combination of swear words on the list and some seriously sexual lyrics. Neither my girlfriend’s mother (sitting next to me) or my middle aged cabbie blink, and I think to myself “this would never get airplay in the US, what is it doing on general audience radio here in Taipei?”

A similar thing happened two weeks ago when I first got here and began channel surfing on the local cable package they have in the house. Once I hit the English movie networks all bets were off regarding language and content, I watched Kill Bill Vol.1 uncut and uncensored on one of the movie networks last weekend, and the content issues aside (violent swordplay is standard prime time TV fare here, so that isn’t a problem) the language used in the movie stuck out like a sore thumb.

I asked Connie if the language in Taiwanese shows were uncensored too, and her reply was that they were actually quite censored. They’re not letting any colorful local language on the air at all, but like the Danish family in the ad the Taiwanese are being allowed to hear some of the nastiest parts of the English language at any day or time. (With the subtitles presumably downplaying the terms being used.) In a country where they teach English as a standard course in school, and it’s well on it’s way to becoming the third (fourth?) language of Taiwan, they might consider watching what the kids are hearing because while the parents don’t understand it, the current generation of kids probably will.

Then again, I speak Japanese like an anime character or superhero, so who am I to complain about learning the wrong parts of the language….