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Susanne Krejsa MacManus' five finger excercise

11/2018: What do we know.


I was sitting on a hill together with friends, listening to a classical concert. The stage of the symphonic orchestra was situated in the middle of the Singapore Botanical Gardens. While we were applauding, one of my Chinese friends bent over to me and said: “Don’t they play just beautifully? Do you have something like this at home in Austria?”



The answer was stuck in my throat. I gasped for air like a stranded gold fish – geographically correct, rather like a Koi. “We!” I wanted to call out. “WE are the ones who invented classical music. WE have the best orchestras! The best musical students worldwide come to US. We, we, we!”

But how could I explain a whole musical universe in just a few sentences?

It was clear that she knew nothing about Austria. Just like we know nothing about Singapore. Or Puerto Rico. Or the Philippines, Ohio, Newfoundland or the Easter Islands. If we do not happen to be geography freaks or have already visited a cousin living overseas, our knowledge of distant lands seldom goes beyond a few stereotypes.

Luckily, the others feel just the same way. I found an amusing example on our latest trip to Japan: The association of the Austrian province Tirol (Tyrol) with chocolate. In 1962, company founder Matuso Seika was looking for a name that should distinguish his product from American sweets with regard to looks and taste. As is generally known, milk comes from the Alps and mountain pastures. Therefore, he searched for a “mountainous” name on a map of Europe. Tirol (Tyrol) sounded just right to him – and that is why there is Tirol Chocolate in Japan.

In this case we know the background of the name. Other cases make us wonder about the origin:

Cafe Tyrol in Fukuoka/Japan
Bar Viena in Lissabon
Viena Bar in Lissabon
Laundry Vienna in Funchal/Madeira
Wäscherei Vienna in Funchal/Madeira
St. Helier/Jersey Island/GB
Restaurant Mozart in Funchal/Madeira

Intercultural clichés may either be truly embarrassing or make you laugh: Japanese and Chinese friends like to shake our hands because they have been instructed to do so. Conversely, we tend to bow in front of them without extending our hand because we are perfectly well informed about Asian customs.

Once, I gave a dress to my friend Mae in Singapore. I had wrapped it nicely. Of course, she could not unwrap it in front of me because this would have been impolite. Her expression might have offended me. However, I had to explain something about the dress to her. Tricky, wasn't it? Finally, we agreed that she would accept the wrapped gift, and I would unwrap it for her.

What makes you laugh in a circle of friends or quickly breaks the ice with new acquaintances, can be a difficult topic in tourism. Therefore, Austrian National Tourist Office for example has developed suggestions for hotel operators.

Certainly, the best solution is to explain differences to both parties. Therefore, the Japanese Tourist Association has published instructive brochures for Chinese guests. There, a Japanese woman in a typical Kimono shows a Chinese woman in a typical Chinese dress (called Cheongsam) what is done differently in Japan compared to China:

For example, you always have to stand on the left side – for instance on an escalator – to let people pass on the right side. In China, do as you like. In a Japanese restaurant (in this case McDonald’s), you must not bring along your own drinks. In China, you may do so. In self-service restaurants, you must dispose of the leftovers yourself, while in China you may leave them on the table.

And most important: In public transportation in Japan, you must not use your cell phone! In China you may do so.

Please, let us adopt this Japanese rule in Austria!

My previous ‘five finger exercises’ and newsletters can be read here. I’d be delighted if they were shared!

I post my five finger exercises every so often, whenever I have something to relate.
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