Wednesday, January 30, 2008


"Me No Speak" China Travel Language Companion:
"Planning travel in China? Our menus, illustrated lexicons, and point-to-phrases will help you eat, sleep, & get around... without bumbling your way through a hard-to-speak language."

Need I say more?


Brian Hunt said...

The first glance that I took at this entry left me wondering what was offensive about it. Then I clicked the link. I thought that the "Me No Speak" was just you being sarcastic. Imagine my surprise!

Jennifer said...

Yeah, I re-read the post and I can see how it might not be clear until you click on the link and see that, it's a real website and a real company offering this travel-language guide.

And they are based out of San Francisco!!!

Which points to my own regional bias, because now that I am living in self-imposed exile, I wax romantic about all things Californian (like it's the land of milk and honey) and think it's this racial utopia, when really, IT'S CLEARLY NOT AND HAS ISSUES LIKE THE REST OF THE U.S.

At any rate, I think the website speaks for itself. I just want to know what motivated these people to do this? Were they trying to riff off of David Sedaris's "Me Talk Pretty One Day"? I think that's a big stretch. And especially given the history of stereotyped speech of Chinese Americans in 19th and 20th C. literature, I tend to think this was a self-conscious move, but who are they marketing this to? Clearly not Chinese Americans looking to visit the homeland for the first time.

Pity...the system itself looks like it could be really useful, but I just could never bring myself to support this company.

Genepool said...

Actually, as scandalous as it may seem, that is the general response I got from just about every person in every country I have been to if they don't speak English. I'm curious if the translator, Ms. Stephanie Lee, knew what the title of the product would be when she signed on to the project?

Anyway, kind of a dumb decision on their part, though it looked pretty useful.

Jennifer said...

Hey Genepool--I wondered where you went to--glad to see you are still reading the blog. Yeah, I know that there is a hint of accuracy in the phrase, but it's also just offensive, and a bonehead marketing move, because it does look like a good system. I mean, I guess they were going for something "catchy" but I think playing off of stereotyped accents isn't the way to go. I wonder if it would make a difference to tell them so...probably not...I mean, I just don't know what would have been wrong with "Picturing Chinese"--I mean, that's a little punny but it's also a bit more accurate and gets at the sense of Chinese language being made of of pictograms as well. Damn it! They should have hired me as a name consultant :)

Genepool said...

They may not even have had a say in the naming of their own product, investors get pretty heavily involved in this stuff, even so, poor judgment.

Shoulda named it "How the hell do I say...?" I did try to learn a bit of the language of the places I visited, I found the effort was generally appreciated by the locals. They did tease me about it when I pronounced things incorrectly, but it never felt mean spirited. And I did say some pretty odd things without meaning to. You know how we will often fill a pause in a sentence with "ummm..." Don't even ask what that means in Turkish.

And yes, I am still lurking.