Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cultural Differences

Cookies and milk, anyone?
No matter how hard you try, there's going to come a point where cultural differences are going to hit you hard. Maybe it's the horse meat steaks in France. Maybe you find the Tibetan Sky Burial a grotesque practice.¹ Whatever your particular trigger is, you're sure to find some culture, somewhere in the world, which thinks your "revolting" behavior is the norm. That's when you have to make a conscious effort to figure out how you're going to respond.

Yesterday for Christmas dinner, my wife was preparing magret de canard (duck breast), when she realized she was out of dried apricots. There was only shop open, a Turkish one, but I dutifully went there and bought the apricots.  I also noticed they had kakaolu - kremali bisküvi, Turkisk for "chocolate cream cookies." I am white. My wife is black. I knew I had to buy them. Fortunately, her sense of humor and mine are in synch, so she laughed when she saw them. The photo at right might explain the issue. As far as I can tell, the Turks have no idea how offensive this name could be to English speaking folk.

And if you're curious, they're delicious.

1. The Tibetan Sky Burial is a traditional practice where the deceased's body is left exposed to the elements, including birds of vultures. I'm not linking to anything because if you really must know, you can find it yourself.


  1. In Vienna, we also have some kinds of food - usually sweets - that have "potentially controversial" names. Like "Negerbrot" ("negro bread", actually a kind of chocolate bar) or "Mohr im Hemd" ("blackamoor in shirt", I guess - it's hot dark chocolatey pudding with whipped cream).

    Some years ago some do-gooders wanted to ban those names, but not so recently - either they've given up or they had a "lucidum intervallum" and realized that changing some names of sweets isn't going to help racial problems in the world.

    Anyway, both kinds of sweets are delicious; a well-made Mohr im Hemd can really round off a meal.

  2. As far as I can tell, the Turks have no idea how offensive this name could be to English speaking folk.

    I'd like to correct your sentence:

    As far as I can tell, the turks have no idea how offensive this name could be to politically correct brainwashed americans.

  3. In Thailand some years ago they had a brand of toothpaste called "Darkie" with an image of a guy in black face wearing a tuxedo and top hat. I wish I bought some just for the freak value. They've now changed it to "Darlie" and dropped the image.

  4. Aha! I always suspected that "Darlie" used to be called "Darkie"! In Chinese it's (still) called "black man" (黑人).

    In Sweden we have a kind of sweets called negerbollar often translated as "nigger balls". (Note though that "bollar" doesn't really refer to testicles.) Nowadays a lot of people call them "chocolate balls" or "delicato balls" (delicato being a company selling them).

  5. @Curtis: In Spanish, negro* simply means 'black', so I fail to see the offence. Of course, in American history, the word was borrowed and bastardised into the mispronounced 'nee-gro' (much like with the lack of the word-final E in Rio Grande (gron-day) in Texas (tay-haas)) to become a perjorative. But blaming the word for this, rather than the behaviour, I think to be a bit short-sighted, or as @Anonymous said, politically correct (or charged).

    *I would guess that most Latin-based languages have the N, G, and/or R sound associated with that colour, such as 'noir', which due to French rules, I can see as a transformation from somthing with a 'grX' ending in French, since the G is so soft in French. The G sound likely died long ago.

    @Anonymous: Darkie, on the other hand, is outright offencive, as it pertains exactly to the perjorative for black, just like neegro [sic]. What next, Honky** Flakes cereal?

    **Honky is an American Black English perjorative term for white people. It never really felt as stinging, though, as nigger, to me.