Lost in translation.

I had an interesting conversation on Facebook the other day with a Japanese fellow about miscommunication. It was with regards to an exchange he had on Facebook with another user. The man in question regularly posts really great information in groups to help the foreign population of Okinawa get the best out of their time living here. He had written a post in a questions group asking for advice on a minor technical issue (Facebook was sassing him over typing too quick, apparently). Whilst most people (including myself) responded in a helpful manner, one person took it upon themselves to be slightly snarky (the comment was along the lines of “Facebook is hinting that you’re annoying”). A few subsequent comments on this were equally cutting, with the original poster unsure of how to respond. Shortly after, he messaged me thanking me for my assistance, and asking me about the commenter. He seemed a little upset, taking the remark as an attack, and reflecting on others who act in a similar fashion not only to him but to other group members.

As a little aside, for those not familiar with Okinawa’s demographic, it has a very large U.S military presence, with 19 bases dotted across the island and thousands of service folk and their families residing here. I am (loosely) a part of this community, being married to a U.S serviceman, though I myself am actually British, not American. By and large, the foreign occupation are pretty nice people, and are mostly respectful and supportive of the local culture. That being said, there are of course rotten apples in the bunch. Being the odd Brit in a mix that is heavily American and Japanese has given me an odd perspective. Despite of course speaking the same language as my American neighbours, I have at many times found myself confused at words and phrases used, and I’ve noticed a fairly large disparage between not just the way in which we speak, but in the humour we express.

To further explain my point, allow me to tell you about an unpleasant exchange I had with an American on Facebook. We had been having a fairly heated discussion over a subject that seems to rile everyone’s feathers (vaccines), and since it was completely pointless and a waste of time I could spend not arguing on Facebook with a stranger, I politely signed out of the conversation. Her reply was “stay dry”. I honestly have no clue what this means, and I have seen it used since by other Americans to one another, almost always in a negative way.

This leads me back to the original point of my musing; if two people who speak the same language (albeit from different countries) have difficulty understanding one another, imagine how a person whose first language isn’t English must feel?

What I’m trying to say ultimately is that you can’t expect everyone from around the world to share the same quirks and humour you yourself are used to. I’m not saying you can’t have fun with others, just bear in mind they may not understand or be flat out insulted, simply because that’s the way their culture is, so just have a little sensitivity.

Back to my Japanese acquaintance. I tried my best to explain that it appeared to be an attempt at humour, and that the misunderstanding may be borne from a lack of knowledge on both sides of the others sense of humour. It could of course be that the commenter was bored and felt that attacking another person was an amusing way to pass the time; it’s hard to tell for sure from words on a screen. He did lament that American and British humour was lost on him, which leads me to believe it really was a case of lost in translation.

Happy and safe travels,

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