Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Won't Miss #430 - backwards names insistence

Ethnocentrism is sometimes reflected in big actions, but sometimes in the tiniest things. At the root of it all on the benign side is an inability to see that "familiar" does not mean "better". On the less appealing side is the notion that all that originates from ones own culture is inherently superior to that which comes from others. The latter comes from cultural insecurity. 

One of the things I accepted with equanimity in Japan was that I'd have to give my name in the order of family name, first name rather than in the usual way in the West  which is first name, family name. I had no problem with this. It's different, sure, but if you're communicating in Japanese, you do it their way to smooth communication and keep down confusion. 

When I'm teaching English, the goal is not simply for words to be exchanged in English. It is clear communication. I taught thousands of businessmen how to conduct conversations in English for their work and more than a few would fight me about giving their names in the Western way. Even when I explained that it would reduce confusion in business talk in English if they followed this way, they insisted that this was the Japanese way and that foreigners should know that was the Japanese way and figure it out without explanation. This sort of insistence was beyond stupid. If you're doing business in Japan in Japanese, do it the Japanese way. If your'e doing business in America in English, do it the American way. 

I won't miss dealing with people who treat this trivial point as if it were some cultural pissing contest.