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December 16, 2003 » 11:20 am

Culture Clash, Shared Language, and Story Telling

Speaking of names, a recent Newsday article on Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn in the Lord of the Ring trilogy, notes that Danish people find his name:    (KK)

“Corny?” he says. “Yeah, I know. It would be like being called Oscar. Or Otto. It’s an old name. A really, really old name. And a little bit corny. Like Oswald or something …”    (KL)

Elmer?    (KM)

“Yeah! Elmer. Yeah,” Mortensen says. “I think there’s a comic strip in Denmark, a Dennis the Menace character, and his name is Viggo. He’s all over the place.”    (KN)

Names are a great example of how our different cultural backgrounds can make Shared Language challenging. There are many great examples of brand names gone wrong because they mean something obscene in other languages.    (KO)

When we first started discussing patterns of collaboration at Blue Oxen Associates, I identified casual social interaction as an important pattern, and I called it Water Cooler. Shinya Yamada, a collaboratory member based in Japan, had no idea why I chose that name. Shinya had worked in the U.S. before, so he understood my explanation. He also noted that he had never seen a water cooler in a Japanese office before, and that — unlike in the States — casual social interaction with strangers in the office was unusual.    (KP)

Another great example of the challenges of Shared Language cropped up at the GivingSpace workshop in San Francisco last Thursday. Six of us were discussing small, concrete steps that lead to transformation, and Heather Newbold described how Matt Gonzalez for Mayor campaign buttons had galvanized the progressive community in San Francisco. Four of us knew exactly what Heather was describing, because we lived in the Bay Area and followed local politics. All she had to do was mention the buttons, and we understood what she meant. The other two people at our table, however, had no idea what we were talking about. One was from San Diego, and the other simply didn’t follow politics.    (KQ)

Language itself is not enough. Telling stories is what makes language shared.    (KR)

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3 Responses to “Culture Clash, Shared Language, and Story Telling”

  1. Actually, if you spend some time on snopes.com, you’ll find that most “it means something obscene in another country!” snafus are but urban legend.

  2. I’m a newbie. What is the big deal about shared language? It just means that you shared an experience. When I name where I went to high school, certain people who have been there or who know someone who went there will smile a certain smile. Golfers share language and experience. We all do.

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