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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

learning spanish

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class of foreign students that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine. ‘House’, for example, is feminine – ‘la casa’; ‘pencil’, however, is masculine: ‘el lapiz.’

A student asked, ‘And what gender is “computer”?’ Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether ‘computer’ should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that ‘computer’ should definitely be of the feminine gender (‘la computadora’) because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else
3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending halfyour pay cheque on accessories for it.

The women's group meanwhile concluded that computers should be masculine (‘el computador’), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on
2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves
3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have got a better model.

This (slightly adapted) joke came from a great discussion forum called intercultural insights (link above). If you want to get into the full-on nitty gritty of up-to-the-minute intercultural thinking, this is the place.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Going Dutch in Beijing homepage

Buy from Amazon.co.ukWelcome to the Going Dutch website. The book is published by Profile and should now be in all good bookshops as well, of course, as being available from Amazon ...

When researching the book, I added to my own experience of travelling on six continents by talking to other travellers, as well as those who grew up or have worked in the different places I've written about around the world. I also scoured the internet and asked endless questions in intercultural and other chatrooms. Hopefully my advice is all spot on and bang up to date, but the world is a huge and ever-changing place, so feel free to let me know that actually in that in Japan they no longer mind if you blow your nose into a handkerchief (p.111); in Argentina the piropo is now regarded as deeply sexist and offensive (p. 27); or in Vietnam they no longer drink coffee that has been brewed from beans vomited by weasels (p. 96).

And do feel free to share any stories of your own of that moment when you realise you've just put your culturally insensitive foot in it big time ...

Even the most powerful world leaders have to observe the local etiquette...

Sunday, 7 October 2007

About the Author

Mark McCrum has visited six of the seven continents (not Antarctica) and written travel books about Southern Africa, Australia and Ireland. He has been mugged in Rio, picknicked on a glacier in Chilean Patagonia and has lunched with the King of the Zulus (a strict teetotaller whose manners were impeccable). He lives in London, where people love to queue.

Visit Mark McCrum's website

Reviews of Going Dutch in Beijing

'A delight to read, and full of funny, helpful and thought-provoking information. Airline staff should hand a copy out with each boarding pass they issue; that way we might all understand more about the places we travel to, and do a little less damage.'
John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor

'A funny and fascinating reminder that the British way is definitely not the only way ... this is essentially the Rough Guide to Not Getting Beaten Up Abroad.'
Danny Wallace, author of Yes Man

'The ultimate no-tears travel guide'
The Independent

'An invaluable look at global etiquette'

'Why deal with the declining dollar and the hassles of international air travel, when one can grab this book and zoom anywhere? Smartly organised and cleverly written, this little book is full of entertaining tidbits'
Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune

'What could be better than this clever little global guide to doing the right thing, from first greeting to last rites'
Belfast Telegraph

'Essential for any traveller'
Good Book Guide

'Universal in its subject matter and readership; well researched and humorously depicted'
Geographical Magazine

'Makes travelling a piece of cake'
Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides