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ESL Article: A Russian View on Culture (2)

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So the absence of a word in the language does not necessarily mean that the mentality originally lacks the notion, it could be a hypocritical stiff-lipped approach of certain people who happened to be in higher positions then. Otherwise we have to deduce that up to the beginning of the 20th century purely western Anglo-Saxon cultures were lacking such awful things like homosexuality, etc. (and had to use evil eastern words) that never existed or else everything had long been burnt in sanitizing witch-hunt fires hundreds of years before that.

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On the other hand could it be that invention of the word Schadenfreude could mean naming a demon to know its face in order to fight it better? Torsten, what do you think about its etymology? This word seems to be originally created to be used in derogatory sense and not to condone having this emotion or being proud about it. A rational human being is ashamed of evil things, of envy etc.

Thirdly, the German language is famous for combining several words in one. Speaking about German language Schadenfreude is like two words spelt in one not one simple words, If the English language allowed such word-creating techniques easier then probably malicious joy were spelt together?:--) Let us take a couple of others: "Realpolitik", "Weltschmerz", "Frommelei", "kleinkariert", "Zeitgeist", "Angst", "Astbruchgefahren" (that was a funny one (you''re-in-danger-of-tree-branches-falling-from-above). Take other foreign words in the English language, and be careful, if you have to use etiquette and savoir-faire, does it mean that the Anglo-Saxon culture originally lacked good manners? Hmm, originally benevolent, but unable to use fork and knife properly and to say sorry when you step on someone''s foot, now that''s an interesting point for further discussion… (sorry, it was a silly joke).

The German language is a peculiar language which allows to compose one word out of two to umpteen notions by simply adding then one to another, you don''t even need to add any suffixes and change endings like in some other languages, some of the words are paragraphs long, no other widespread language that I know is like this. Correct me if I''m wrong. Other European languages seem to miss this word as well, and maybe it''s the precision and the wit of the German language rather than something originally missing in the western culture whatever you mean by western culture… After all the USA is to the east of Japan, and Japan is to the east of Russia, isn''t it?

My strongest belief is that there are of course differences in expressing feelings between cultures but they are much more subtle and more on the surface than this especially now when cultures penetrate into each other at an unprecedented speed and I don''t believe that the eastern or western cultures are in such a confrontation in deep-routed notions. Maybe we should find the real differences? Otherwise we can reach an absurd stage and will wage our own fight.

When a person doesn''t like something about someone (that someone happens to be of another race, nationality, sexuality, religion, sex, neighborhood) how easy is to blame it on the cultural difference, then search for a true answer? Our mind tends to jump to easier conclusions, life is short, why the hell we should spend time questioning them, but are the conclusions always correct? Let''s imagine a situation either in China or in Russia or in the USA Your overseas partner screwed up something, of course it''s none of your fault. Stage 1: Just go to xenophobe jokes page, Stage 2: Look up a joke in is his nationality tab that perfectly illustrates this situation, Stage 3 have fun and Stage 5: Relax and tell it to your friends if it''s funny, Stage 6: If you''re really witty make one yourself and post it on the Internet, Stage 7: Tell to your two-headed great-grandson (he was one of the few who survived the nuclear war) that it was your joke and making such jokes was really funny because other subjects were too un-PC at that time. Otherwise you may find yourself still at stage 1a): Wondering if you yourself had screwed up anything negotiating with you partner beforehand and that is beginning to be 2a) dangerous. East-west culture difference notion is much safer :--) You don''t have to do anything except for moaning (how malicious they are) or boasting (how benevolent we are). Both feel nice.

But really maybe you should have discussed some matters in advance, warned your partner of some important points? For me the mistakes my business partners make mean one thing: Next time I should re-check this particular point with them as well as with others. I can do as much moaning as I want, but we will go bankrupt if we do just that.

A perfect illustration of my point on a myth on cross-cultural differences is "M.Butterfly" by D.Cronenberg (playwright D.H.Hwang, starring Jeremy Irons). Go and watch it if you haven''t, it was based on a true story (this particular one dwells on Chinese-French huge differences).

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Author: Elena Nossal

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