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I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….

china starbucks

Adam writes on the Lehman Law Blawg [sic] that the new ordnance in Shanghai requiring foreign businesses to add Chinese characters to their name is “misguided.” He goes on to make his case: “The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example, ‘that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu.’ As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you’re going to have to tell the driver ‘intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu’ to get where you want to go.”

Adam, I kind of expect to be reading Chinese (authentic Traditional Chinese) in Guangzhou, and even Portuguese in Macau. Just a guess on my part, but there seems to be some ethnocentrically driven historical precedence for the annoying habit of the local governments insisting on being able to navigate streets and order in eateries using their native tongue….

In China, that country bordering the country with the man with strange hair that is building a nuke, people brought up during the cultural revolution who don’t read English or Pinyin, probably don’t know the Hard Rock Cafe from a day-old bread store, but they have heard of Xingbake (the Chinese name for Starbucks) the American coffee joint or Kendeji (pronounced cun-dutch-ee) the chicken emporium. And even the Cantonese taxi divers can take you to either one if asked…

Adam gives his jury summation thusly: “Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.” Adam might have had me here if he he hadn’t introduced reasonable doubt in his argument by saying “Shanghai” and “free market” in the same sentence…But then, I lived in Chicago and did see a few businesses in ethnic neighborhoods with signs exclusively in the area’s dominant language, but most ethnic businesses in most cities have romanized names as well….The businesses intentionally wanting to appeal to immigrants left out “ease of menu translation” in their business plan to-do lists. The places looking to be cosmopolitan were smart enough to add English characters.

And if 谷哥 (Google) and 肯德基 (KFC) haven’t filed any ethnic diversity lawsuits because people here now know them better by their Chinese monikers, I doubt 星巴克 (Starbucks) is headed to court either.

By the way: “Guido”and “Boris” (their English names) from Guangzhou’s Tourism Board want to pay you a visit to discuss ways to improve on internationalizing their hick towns Hong Kong and Guangzhou… And “Makudonorudo” (the Golden Arches) in Japan wants you to represent them as they are tired of their name sounding like a morning rooster in the ads that air in the backwater town of Tokyo….

Adam is held in contempt of culture unil further notice…

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….”

  1. Markon Jul 22nd 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I’m kind of two minds on this one. On one hand, I’m all for openness and diversity. On the other hand, though, here in Taiwan I see people marginalizing their own language and culture so much that I do sometimes wish that businesses had to include local language on their signs. The sheer number of people I’ve met who have reached a certain level of English skill and then decided that Chinese was “beneath them” is a little depressing.

    I should point out that it didn’t seem like that at all to me when I visited the mainland last year. Even in Shanghai, the English craze was tame compared to what it is here. In Beijing, I had the distinct impression that people expected me to be able to speak Chinese well. Maybe, for the typical tourist, it would be annoying, but I liked it.

  2. chriswaugh_bjon Jul 23rd 2007 at 5:06 am

    And I think one thing Adam completely misses is that a lot of people find foreign languages kinda daunting, especially when they’re in their own country and expect, reasonably, I believe, to be able to do everything in their own language. As one example, my father in law has only actually said my English name when he’s had a bit too much to drink. Without that little bit of Dutch courage even one simple little English word is a bit too much for him. And I could give you an example from Norway, of all places, too, if you need it.

    And does having your store’s name in English only make you look sophisticated and cosmopolitan? No, it makes you look like a pretentious wanker.

    Unfortunately, this English-only rubbish seems to be creeping in to Beijing, if a recent trip to a new shopping mall up the road from the infamous Silk Street is anything to go by. Not only does it have the rather pretentious English name “The Place” and ridiculously huge TV screen, but an awful lot of the shops had their signs in English only. And the people I was with couldn’t understand why I hated every minute of it.

  3. Blawgon Jul 23rd 2007 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for engaging with Adam’s blog entry. It has attracted some controversy, but we are glad to get conversations going. We hope you will continue to check our entries, and we look forward to more informative discussions in the future.

    China Blawg

  4. Daily Tea Leaveson Jul 23rd 2007 at 9:09 am

    I think that governments should be able to regulate language as much as they want. I hate to go back to the ‘market’ argument, but doesn’t this become a market of opinions? For example, let’s take a look at the times when countries have tried to mandate languages to ‘preserve integrity’ or for other reasons.

    1. Quebec is a laughingstock since places have to have a French sign in all circumstances. You know, places like English book stores.

    2. France’s embarrassing attempts to keep its language pure. Toward this aim there are various websites dedicated to translating words from English to French so that FRENCH people know how to say them:

    3. Two words: Freedom Fries

    So I say legislate. Why not? If it’s not a good idea people will know in the end.

    On a semi-related note, the 5-year old daughter of a Chinese friend once asked me how to say “bai bai” (ie- bye-bye) in English.

  5. adminon Jul 23rd 2007 at 10:09 am

    Thanks everyone…

    “Blawg”, do you mean you hope for more posts that are interesting like this one or posts that are more interesting than this one? :-)

    I thankfully live in Canton where Mandarin is a second language and the Quebecois militia would look like a girl scout troop if anyone tried to forced these folks to quit eating snake or speaking Guangdong-hua….Nice analogy…

    Chris, I am with you on this one: Last week I watched an American guy argue with a ticket taker at the train station because she would not let him pass by 5 minutes before departure into customs. The sign, IN ENGLISH, clearly stated he had to be there 15 minutes in advance. He kept speaking faster and louder which only amused the girl and everyone now gathered to watch. She understood nary a word of English, but the guy pressed on anyway…..Living on Canton “relatively” stress free requires a working knowledge of both Cantonese and Mandarin and a fair command of Chinglish….he definitely short-circuited….

    Hell, most of the time the store-keeps look at you as though they are doing you a favor by serving up answers in Putonhua…The city could stand even a bit more English/Chinglish, but it is wonderfully cosmopolitan enough for me as is…

    And with 200,000 foreign visitors to the trade fair every 6 months there is never a lack of entertainment in old Canton….

  6. Adam Feeney (Lehman Law Blawg)on Jul 24th 2007 at 4:14 am

    Rather than assuming I’m just another dumb foreigner who doesn’t speak Chinese and just wants everyone to speak English to him, lets look at the actual argument I made that it’s not the government’s job to tell businesses what language in which to write their signs.

    I have lived in China for the better part of five years. I can speak Mandarin and read Chinese characters. I lived in Dalian for 2 1/2 years, where, outside of a few five star hotels, attempting to order food or buy something in English will get you nothing but confused looks. That was what I expected when I came to China, and I liked it. I actually find it strange in Shanghai when servers speak to me in English. So, I’m not saying that China should have to bend over backwards, or do anything for that matter, to make life easier for non-Chinese speakers. But, the issue here isn’t making life easier for foreigners; the issue is commercial freedom for private businesses. I never said that anything should be required to be written in a non-Chinese language, I simply said that business owners should be allowed to do so if they so choose.

    Yes, I am very much aware that many Chinese people can’t read pinyin or foreign languages. That’s why most businesses already put Chinese characters on their signs. It’s a good business decision. Personally, if I had a business in Shanghai, I would have its name in Chinese characters on the sign. I believe that that would be a good business decision. But it would be MY business decision. In a free market, which is what Shanghai is ostensibly aspiring towards, it is not the government’s job to tell businesses what are and are not good business decisions. A business is not a public service; it is a private money-making venture. The government should not REQUIRE a business to make themselves easy to find, or have names that are understandable to everyone. These are businesses, not street signs or subway stops, after all. If the owner wants to write the name on the sign in French, Gaelic, or Klingon, or if he or she doesn’t want to have a name at all on his or her sign, that is the owner’s prerogative.

    Moreover, in the US, where I am from, I would vehemently oppose any regulation that required all businesses to have English on their signs. And, were I to support such a policy, I would be called ethnocentric. Why should a government tell a business they can’t just call their Mexican restaurant “La Casa”, or make a Korean grocery store print their name in a non-Korean language if the business doesn’t want to? Isn’t some of the charm lost when a French wine and cheese shop is forced to translate its name? So, why am I ethnocentric when I say that people should be able to express themselves in languages that are not the national language when the country in question is China? Also, this is not just about English, as some respondents seem to be assuming. The regulation bans all foreign languages, and I see many businesses in Shanghai with Japanese-only signs.

    If Shanghai wants to be a cosmopolitan world city, it needs to make room for people who decide to express themselves in foreign languages, even when the expression doesn’t come packaged with their own. Don’t worry, Chinese characters aren’t going to die out because the sign for the wine shop “Vin” doesn’t also say “维呢.”

  7. adminon Jul 24th 2007 at 7:35 am

    Thanks for chiming in….

    I think the use of America as a bastion of language diversity doesn’t work well….There are dozens of groups that would love to abolish foreign expression in America: Thirty some states have now passed English language legislation toward this end:….Yes, I too would vote against such legislation, but it appears I am in the minority…

    I chided your article first and foremost because you wrote this as an unsupported op-ed piece and you, whether you meant to or not, came off sounding like a plantation owner….I would have liked to have learned a bit more from you about the history of such a decision….Still would…

    And I do not see Shanghai as a a free market,. It is still, after all, China and decades away from being even an approximation of Hong Kong….My last visit there, which was sadly confined to the People’s Square area, made out Shanghai to be arguably provincial, sleazy, dangerous, dirty and light years from civility….To call Shanghai, who is bringing in businesses by the boatload principally due to the low incorporation fees and proximity to other expat resources, is not cosmopolitan….

    China, unlike America, is a homogeneous society and may be one, like Japan, for all eternity. I expect to see signs here in Chinese. Many a business has failed or is failing (can you say Guge?) as a result of acculturation and assimilation resistance…

  8. Markon Jul 24th 2007 at 8:15 am

    From what I’ve read, several areas in New Jersey and L.A. have adopted ordinances requiring English signs of equal or greater size as any in foreign languages. I think it has something to do with Korean run family businesses. On the other hand, the U.S. Army is actively recruiting in Spanish.

  9. adminon Jul 24th 2007 at 1:33 pm

    The Mexican-American side of my family (The Colorado Velarde clan) would call that the “Army of Juan” campaign….

  10. Striteon Jun 25th 2009 at 1:51 am

    hey , its my fiirst time in this blog,
    and i must say i like it !
    is it ok to link to it from my sf blog? iam thinking on the linkroll

    thanks anyway !

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