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Discuss culture, living, traveling, relocating, dating or anything related to the Asian countries - China, The Philippines, Thailand, etc.
14 posts • Page 1 of 1
The idea behind spreading English around the world and making it an international language was excellent. Think about it- we will all speak one language, communicate with people of different nations, and erase barriers among cultures. It worked in Europe, the countries of South Asia and the Middle East. However, when it got to what we are no longer allowed to call â€œthe Orientâ€, things came to a bit of a halt; in the most awkward way possible, too. Here are some dramatizations:
A Western gentleman is sitting in front of a religious structure in which he has been sent to work as a missionary. He is fluent in the local language, but he still finds it hard to talk to the natives. Here is a typical example how:
A local man walks by. He looks sideways at the missionary and walks on, shoulders drooped. He then approaches the janitor and asks him about the building (in the national language of the country). The missionary yells out in the same language- â€œHey, come on back, sir! Come inside! Please!â€ The manâ€™s jaw drops as if he had seen a cow fly- â€œYou can speak (insert the language here)?â€ The eyes bulge with surprise- â€œI thought you spoke only English; this is why I did not even want to talk to you!â€ After the man entered the temple, it turned out that his English was fluent, but according to him, it was not fluent enough, and he did not want to look stupid. So, he just ignored the white man, clammed up and walked up to someone who looked like him. Because, if he spoke English and made a mistake, he would lose face. And E/SE Asians fear being embarrassed more than anything else.
The missionary takes public transportation, but people avoid sitting next to him. He feels like a leper. Because, you see, the locals are scared- what if you start speaking English and ask something, but they cannot answer correctly? If they do not know how to answer you fluently, they will lose face and appear stupid. It is better to avoid and ignore the white foreigner altogether.
The missionary stops a stranger on the street and asks him in the official language of the country how to get to the bank. The stranger recoils, shouting-â€œI donâ€™t speak English! I donâ€™t speak English!â€ and runs away. â€œBut I did not address you in English!â€, the missionary shouts in frustration as the stranger speeds off. The stranger stops in his tracksâ€¦the eyes wide open in total shock and disbelief-â€œYou meanâ€¦you can speak (put the language in here)?â€ â€œYes, I can. This is (put the name of the country). So, I speak its language to its citizenâ€. It finally dawns on the stranger that a white man can in fact speak the language and is not speaking English. He cautiously gives him the directions.
After finally getting to the bank, he witnesses a sad scene- the bank clerks shun him and stand up with a jerk ,leaving their desks and pointing him out to the manager- â€œthere is a foreigner- I cannot speak English- you talk to him- no, you talk to him, no, you talk to himâ€¦â€ad nauseaum. Finally, a manager comes out, the face having the expression of one trying to relieve oneself in the midst of a severe constipation. â€œCanâ€¦I â€¦help..you?â€- Eyes filled with horror, hands shaking, pale as a sheet. The missionary speaks to him in fluent South-east-asianese. The manager is trembling while answering in broken English- â€œYes, we open account. You have ID? â€œ
It is no use trying to convince such people to speak to you in their own language. The white manâ€™s tongue is English- always has been, always will be. According to them. And they cannot speak it well and are afraid to be embarrassed. He sits down, but other customers do not want to sit next to him. Seats empty up around him.
After having opened the bank account, the missionary goes out to catch a taxi- but one after another roll on by without stopping- "what if he speaks English and my English is not fluent ?â€“ Iâ€™d better not stop for this foreigner!â€ The missionary is left standing alone in the rain. He feels ostracized, and he feels like a stranger in a strange land in spite of the fact that he had spent years preparing himself to function in this society in its language.
Since the missionary is not a Catholic priest, he decides to invite some ladies to dinner. After many unsuccessful attempts, one lady agrees. She brings a chaperon and they all eat, but no conversation ensues. The girls do not talk! They just stare at the man, shaking. After he speaks to them in the local language, they still cannot get over the fact that he is a white foreigner. They remain â€œmuteâ€ for the time it takes to have dinner.â€ Itâ€™s just like sitting and talking to a mannequinâ€, thinks the young man.
The waiter approaches to take the order, and talks to the ladies, but not the man. "Hey, I am paying for this- talk to me! He shouts, " respect, please". " I don't speak English" - barks back the waiter. "But I am not talking to you in English"- replies the white man. The waiter stares at him mutely, not knowing what to say.
The man catches a taxi to take the young ladies home. The taxi driver again completely ignores him while speaking with the ladies. Again, the man explodes- "I pay you! Talk to me!"
East and SE Asian cultures do not as a rule promote individual confidence. They also emphasize the concept of â€œfaceâ€- do not show your weakness or lack of skill in anything. And facing a white man who cannot speak any language but English is a horrible experience which undermines confidence and makes one lose face. So, they stay away from you.
The imperialistic undertakings by the UK, US and other English-speaking countries did not help the situation. Their citizens who were, mainly, either military administration, short term tourists, businessmen or English teachers were overwhelmingly monolingual and never learned to speak local languages to the natives. The former were convinced that the world wanted to be English-speaking, and the latter became persuaded that â€œthe Caucasian raceâ€ only spoke English and was biologically incapable of speaking South/East-Asianese.
Well, you will say, but they all have English in school, and they can attempt to speak at least its broken variety to explain something to the Westerner. Oh, well, some will, most wonâ€™t. They do not feel confident enough, and, God forbid, they will make a mistake and be disgraced in front of their compatriots and the arrogant western guest! That must never happen. They would rather run away than be humiliated. Hence, a western man is surrounded by fearful faces, people who duck down when they see him as if they are about to be delivered a blow to their face (pun intended) and the white man is ostracized. Not necessarily because they see him as inferior but because â€œtheyâ€¦doâ€¦ notâ€¦speakâ€¦English!â€
Hence, a white person who is surrounded by E/SE Asian people will often find mortified facial expressions, turned away gazes, quivering faces and the fact that many natives avoid him like the plague. Not an experience for the faint-hearted. And most of it is the result of introducing English as an international language into cultures where saving oneâ€™s image is so high on the priority list. Instead of making these people more talkative, it turned them into scared, â€muteâ€ persons, at least as far as their interaction with a Western visitor or resident is concerned.
Last edited by ladislav on February 24th, 2013, 6:43 am, edited 3 times in total.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
This is so very very true which my daily sufferings of fighting against this deeply ingrained belief system can confirm. I have given up the fight but the suffering remains for the time being until I can find a viable alternative where the most mundane interactions is not accompanied by high stress.
Where are you? Bangkok?
I gathered extreme cases into one narrative although admittedly things are not like this everywhere and every day.
Indonesia and Malaysia are not like that. In the case of the former, people there actually think that a foreigner in Indonesia should speak Indonesian because ... he is in Indonesia so what else should he speak while here? Does not it make sense? So, they talk to you in Bahasa. And if you do not understand, it is YOUR problem. Get a dictionary and speak it.
In Malaysia, because they are Muslims, they come from a culture where making fun of other people is a very big sin. So, if they speak broken English, they know that no one will make fun of them. The same in Arab countries. They will speak broken English to you without the fear of losing face.
But in Buddhist and Christian countries talking behind one's back and making fun of other people is not prohibited by religion so they are scared.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
This happens in places where there has been a large US or British either military or tourist presence. It is the same in Puerto Rico, by the way. You stop people on the street and speak Spanish to them and they bark back- I don't speak English and run away.
In case of the Philippines, I don't know when the Filipino people will realize that when a person is in the Philippines, he should speak...Filipino. Like when a person is in Japan, he should speak Japanese. I talked to them in Tagalog and explained that and they would stare back, think and think and then, oo, tama ka, tama ka! A simple thing like that- you are on your own country, a foreigner is not. You should speak Filipino to the foreigner. It had never occured to them, though.
But then, the Philippines is such a linguistic patchwork that the people themselves have not figured out what language they should speak to each other, let alone a foreigner.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
Integration in the Philippines is easy. Assimilation is not. At least not when it comes to strangers. With people that know you and have accepted you as a friend, it is OK.
Also, it depends on what kind of foreigner you are. What race. As it is about anywhere. If you are Mexican and you are in Cebu, you are a foreigner and you will integrate and assimilate. Because you look like them. If you are a Norwegian, then only with the people you know. If you are Malaysian, you are a foreigner, too, but if you are in Manila, you will integrate and assimilate with everybody.
In the USA, if you are British and drop the accent you integrate, assimilate and disappear in the main stream. If you are Japanese, well, then no.
The good thing is that they do try and accommodate you so speaking English to you is done with a good intention.
Also, one thing I have noticed in the Philippines is that people now migrate all over the islands where different ethnic groups live. I am sure that they go through the same thing you went through with people staring and speaking in Tagalog , etc. But they still move to new places permanently and live OK. There is no violence against them obviously and people do not tell them to go back to their provinces.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
Cheer up. Back when I lived in Changhua as a kid, we'd chase foreign missionaries around until they gave us candy. If they didn't have any, we'd throw rocks at them.
Back then during local elections, the candidates would send trucks with loud speakers to go around town and broadcast election messages and hand out packets of sugar, salt, MSG, and candy. The election law prohibited giving vote-buying bribes to people, but very low value gifts like small bags of salt was permitted in a grey zone. As kids we'd chase the trucks for freebies, and if they didn't give us any we'd throw rocks at them too.
So I should cheer up because I was not a missionary living in Taiwan all those years ago?
I think foreign missionaries should be chased and rocks thrown at them, anytime and anywhere, candy or no candy. lol.
My late grandfather, had an excellent command of written English and can understand English, but doesn't speak spoken English at all. My family found a number of letters written in English in his own handwriting. So something like 'silent English' has existed since the beginnings of the use of English as an international lingua franca.
Armenian business owners in Glendale do this. Their employees and customers are all Armenian. But supplier catalogs, contracts, invoices, permits etc. are of course in English. They read English with no problem. They can understand spoken English, but avoid speaking it.
Whats with 'loosing face' in Asian countries?
They are embarassed when they mispronounce some word in foreign language but they are not embarassed when cheating and lying..
I have noticed with Thai people that they 'hate' when you catch them in a lie, they will swiftly change the subject rather than apologize..
and you supposed to act as if nothing happened and move on