Cross culture communication

June 11, 2011, 01:09 AM posted in General Discussion

Interesting piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald about cross-culture understanding - and we are talking Australia and the United States - a subject that comes up on this site from time to time. 

A Herald writer called Richard Glover had a piece last week about climate change and it was pretty ho-hum in my opinion. Kind of very low key, friendly satire, nothing too biting, family newspaper stuff. Most of his writing concerns what happened in his family during the past week. I generally don't read his column (but enjoy his radio show each weekday afternoon on 2BL) but I did read this piece and thought it was mildly amusing. 

Glover received nine emails about the article in the first two days. It seems I am a typical reader - it didn't excite us too much; pretty standard Richard Gloveresque lame jokes. He talks of tying climate-change naysayers to a post off Manly and waiting for the sea to rise, then says on reflection "perhaps that's not ideal". 

Then someone posted a link to a site in the US and he got 300,000 hits and 2,400 emails. Most of the US correspondents want to kill him (and worse.) Fortunately most of the aspiring maimers and murderers from America don't know where Sydney, Australia is. :) 


The article is at

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June 11, 2011, 03:10 AM

I dont think its fair to make such a broad generalization. He got emails yes, and from Americans, but not necessarily representative of a cultural difference between America and Australia. Sounds like he stepped into a bees nest of Fox news aficionados. Besides, he claims all his extreme threats were just hyperbole, yet doesn't allow for the possibility that what he is seeing is the same kind of hyperbole coming from his responders. He takes them seriously while criticizing them for taking him too seriously. I havent read the responses but maybe its Glover who doesnt get it.

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Yes, I guess it is a little unfair to paint 'Americans' in general as capable of mis-reading Australian humour on the strength of a few thousand emails full of vituperative invective.

However, it would be hard to conclude that he, Glover, just 'doesn't get it'. He makes a good living from words (books, newspaper columns, radio show) - I would think that we can safely assume that he understands what he read. After all we do all speak English. What he is pointing to is that the American emails lacked any sense of understanding the humour employed. This does ring true to me - we have significant problems understanding each other's humour, particularly that of the Glover kind, satire.

I do think Richard got excited that so many people are now reading his column!

Incidentally, a Glover aside suitable for a language-learning web-site - he has made a name for himself making up words - words that should exist but don't. This is one part of his humour that I don't get into but lots of people do - most of his material seems to come from suggestions written by his fans and listeners. Examples:

Grating (gray' ting) noun. The tight, grim smile given to someone you pass for the fourth time in ten minutes in the office corridor, the first three meetings having already exhausted the 'Good morning', 'Working hard!', and the hilarious 'We must stop meeting like this.'

Testiculation (tes tik' yu' lay' shun) noun. The male habit of giving one's testicles a quick squeeze or prod at three-minute intervals throughout the working day, just to check they haven't suddenly disappeared, or been pecked off by wild birds.

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Well, I read the original article and didnt have any trouble understanding it, nor did I find it offensive. I am weary of hearing about global warming though, so them wild birds you mentioned, I hope they pay Mr Glover a visit.

Time for my 3 min checkup, got to go.

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Those wacky Americans. Too bad Richard Glover doesn't look like anyone on Saturday Night Live.

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RJ here looks like Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation

I will say that many Americans just don't share the same sense of humor that Australians and those from the UK have. I was shown Peep Show from a friend of mine and loved it. I tried showing it to my friends here when I got home and they all thought it was stupid. Same with the jokes in Top Gear, most of my friends just don't get them. Can't win them all I guess, but that's Number Wang :)

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June 11, 2011, 04:01 AM

Hey RJ - Richard Glover wrote something just for you it seems! 

How do you tell if you are a true Aussie? Here are Richard Glover's 43 top ways to tell if you're a local. 
You know you're Australian if ... 
1. You know the meaning of the word "girt". 
2. You believe that stubbies can be either drunk or worn. 
3. You think it's normal to have a leader called Kevin. 
4. You waddle when you walk due to the 53 expired petrol discount vouchers stuffed in your wallet or purse. 
5. You've made a bong out of your garden hose rather than use it for something illegal such as watering the garden. 
6. You believe it is appropriate to put a rubber in your son's pencil case when he first attends school. 
7. When you hear that an American "roots for his team" you wonder how often and with whom. 
8. You understand that the phrase "a group of women wearing black thongs" refers to footwear and may be less alluring than it sounds. 
9. You pronounce Melbourne as "Mel-bin". 
10. You pronounce Penrith as "Pen-riff". 
11. You believe the "l" in the word "Australia" is optional. 
12. You can translate: "Dazza and Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas." 
13. You believe it makes perfect sense for a nation to decorate its highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep. 
14. You call your best friend "a total bastard" but someone you really, truly despise is just "a bit of a bastard". 
15. You think "Woolloomooloo" is a perfectly reasonable name for a place. 
16. You're secretly proud of our killer wildlife. 
17. You believe it makes sense for a country to have a $1 coin that's twice as big as its $2 coin. 
18. You understand that "Wagga Wagga" can be abbreviated to "Wagga" but "Woy Woy" can't be called "Woy". 
19. You believe that cooked-down axlegrease makes a good breakfast spread. 
20. You believe all famous Kiwis are actually Australian, until they stuff up, at which point they again become Kiwis. 
21. Hamburger. Beetroot. Of course. 
22. You know that certain words must, by law, be shouted out during any rendition of the Angels' song Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again. 
23. You believe, as an article of faith, that the confectionary known as the Wagon Wheel has become smaller with every passing year. 
24. You still don't get why the "Labor" in "Australian Labor Party" is not spelt with a "u". 
25. You wear ugh boots outside the house. 
26. You believe, as an article of faith, that every important discovery in the world was made by an Australian but then sold off to the Yanks for a pittance. 
27. You believe that the more you shorten someone's name the more you like them. 
28. Whatever your linguistic skills, you find yourself able to order takeaway fluently in every Asian language. 
29. You understand that "excuse me" can sound rude, while "scuse me" is always polite. 
30. You know what it's like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose. 
31. You understand that "you" has a plural and that it's "youse". 
32. You know it's not summer until the steering wheel is too hot to handle. 
33. Your biggest family argument over the summer concerned the rules for beach cricket. 
34. You shake your head in horror when companies try to market what they call "Anzac cookies". 
35. You still think of Kylie as "that girl off Neighbours". 
36. When returning home from overseas, you expect to be brutally strip-searched by Customs - just in case you're trying to sneak in fruit. 
37. You believe the phrase "smart casual" refers to a pair of black tracky-daks, suitably laundered. 
38. You understand that all train timetables are works of fiction. 
39. When working on a bar, you understand male customers will feel the need to offer an excuse whenever they order low-alcohol beer. 
40. You get choked up with emotion by the first verse of the national anthem and then have trouble remembering the second. 
41. You find yourself ignorant of nearly all the facts deemed essential in the government's new test for migrants. 
42. You know, whatever the tourist books say, that no one says "cobber". 
43. And you will immediately forward this list to other Australians, here and overseas, realising that only they will understand.

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I understand #31, but I guess that would make me a New Yorker (which I am not).

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"you" does indeed have a plural, and it's "ya'll."

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As in "Ya'll cousins and ya'll still got married, ain't that sweet, hey jobe, ain't that sweet. Yeah he says that's so sweet." ;)

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I believe "y'all" is often singular; "all y'all" is plural. But perhaps there is regional variation.

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both can be correct. Like "hey y'all! welcome home" and "Hey, all y'all just gonna stand there like that" or "Y'all are welcome to stay here, but all y'all better keep your hands off mah daughter" *cocks shotgun*

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“but all y'all better keep your hands off mah daughter" *cocks shotgun*”

哈哈,就是, 说得很好


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是的, 因为女人非常喜欢危险,当然不喜欢打赌自己的生活,但是你的就行。也许女人不坏男人不爱也是对了。


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June 11, 2011, 09:21 AM

At this stage I've got more comments than Mr Glover got for his original article, thanks all y'all!

Youse guys do like to laugh at your hillbillies don't you? Like Kevin in 30 Rock, bless his cotton socks. It's really difficult for us Australians to do that .. well, we don't have many hills for a start, so we don't have hillbillies. Seriously, we don't have the variation is accents/expressions you guys have. Except Queenslanders, maybe. And it's really hard to do a real Queensland accent in print - it's the same as we all speak, just at half the revolutions per minute. If we do a funny accent it is to mock the posh types - they 'talk like the Queen' or 'have a plum in their mouth'. But in Australia almost everyone strives for the same sound - even the American-born Kristina Keneally (former Premier of NSW) is said to have had accent correction to get a suitable drawl going.

We do like to mock the migrants accent - several Greek-Australians do Greek-Australian. Paul Fenech et al does the Lebanese. Anh Do does the Vietnamese - actually wait, he just talks that way, it's no act. No Chinese comedians have made the big time in Australia as far as I know - is it just not funny to talk Chinese-Australian?  

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June 11, 2011, 09:52 AM

Speaking of which, I wonder how standup comedy is in China. I would ask people about it and they didn't seem to know. I would watch those shows on during events and what not and it was terrible. Though it's the TV in China so of course they can't have anything too risky there. Not like comedy central here in the US.

Yeah we do like to make in fun of our rednecks, we used to make in fun of super religious people like Flanders on simpsons until they formed a tea party and decided to run for office. Then the jokes stopped being funny :(

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I'm not at a level to appreciate those comedy routines so I don't even know what you mean by 'it was terrible'. I wonder if the concept of 'stand-up' is unlikely to take hold in China because it almost by definition lacks the kind of perfection required of Chinese performance. Ricky Gervais may be an exception - his stand-up is nearly perfect. Anyway, it might sit on the fringe of society (if it exists) like rock and roll and tattooing.

'can't have anything too risky'

I'm showing my ignorance about US comedy but what we get in Australia is pretty mainstream (Simpsons, SouthPark, King of the Hill, American Dad, Family Guy) - don't get me wrong I enjoy them, but there is nothing we get that is too risky as far as I know. But then we might have different ideas of 'risky' - are you talking politics? Innovative? I'm not sure.

Here's a question: something we define as 'risky' in our own society, is that so specific to our society that no-one else could possibly appreciate it? Actually, in your own society the majority don't want risky. (Unfortunately they want Two & a Half Men.)

Can you give us examples of risky US humour? I'd like to have a look..

Our home-grown humour is probably the riskiest I've seen anywhere so far - in the sense of gross, tasteless, non-politically correct, etc, (eg. Pizza) and even clever/innovative (Chris Lilley). But that is probably because, when it comes down to it, I will appreciate our own humour more than someone elses.) I guess that would reciprocate in the US, if your networks every bought anything from us.

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Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, etc, all those are great shows but for sure would be banned in China. Sure to us they are tame, and say a skit or stand up routine from comedian Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Chris Rock, Etc would be guaranteed to be banned as well. Political, Sexual, even PG-13 in nature stuff here is just not acceptable for the state owned television stations. Hell, even when I saw Iron Man 2 in Beijing they edited the word "Russian" out of the movie. That is the level of censorship you're looking at. Of course there are other mediums out there, like online videos and it's great to see that Chinese have a sarcastic outlook at things too. Some of it is very tongue in cheek too. I’ve had many Chinese friends who were extremely funny and one that was very sarcastic.

I guess I shouldn’t say all comedy routines on TV are bad. I forgot about the New Years specials and from what I could understand from the skits, some were funny. There are also some really good comedy skits I’ve seen on youku from people in Beijing night clubs. But it seemed like when I was watching a lot of other skits on TV, they were pretty painful to watch at times. I guess it just takes time. That said though, there’s a reason that most all of my Chinese friends went online to places like youku and baidu to find translated versions of American, British, and Australian shows because they find the local broadcasting too boring.

Also I will also admit that American primetime comedy shows have nothing on shows like Peep Show. We still can't say F*ck on cable tv. Though I heard Australia Banned Mortal Kombat for PS3 and Xbox360. Lol I guess we all have our problems. In the US naughty language is bad, but over the top insane violence is fine :P.

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June 12, 2011, 12:42 AM

Australian humour also doesn't work with His Holiness: 

A TV morning show host Karl Stefanovic is reported in today's SMH doing an interview for the show: 

Stefanovic leant forward, grinning, and said: ''So the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop.'' This was repeated to His Holiness by his interpreter.

''Pizza?'' The Dalai Lama asked. ''Ah, pizza.''

''Pizza,'' Stefanovic repeated enthusiastically. ''And he says, 'Can you make me one with everything?'''

The Dalai Lama looked blank. ''Do you know what I mean?'' Stefanovic asked encouragingly before repeating the punchline: ''Can you make me one with everything.''

Another blank stare from the Buddhist leader. Stefanovic, laughing, put his head in his hands, before saying: ''Oh, I knew it wouldn't work.''

Queensland-born Stefanovic tweeted: ''OK worst gag of the year with best guest short list. … Even I am cringing.''

Maybe the gag was lost in translation, but his brother, Peter Stefanovic, the Europe correspondent for Channel Nine, tweeted: ''I didn't get the joke either. He's not that funny folks.''

Read more:

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haha, very good. But yes, when jokes backfire. Stefanovic probably wished he could be one with a hole in the ground after that. One with the crust you could say.