Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 May, 2006

Lum’s trip to Korea
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 1:13 AM

Scott Jennings just posted lots of fascinating photos from his trip to Korea. Perhaps one day we will all be lucky enough to work for a Korean company that will fly us half way across the world.

One thing he mentioned was about the experience of being a complete alien. He didn’t speak Korean, and few people on the street spoke English. I’ve been in that experience a few times when I’ve gone to Germany to meet with the Meridian 59 licensee there.

The irony is that I’ve studied Spanish and linguistics of Romance languages in college, so I’d do okay in many countries in Europe. My trip to France to work with Nevrax wasn’t nearly as bad since I could get by with a few words of Spanish in some cases, and most of the Nevrax folks spoke English well. Of course, it was funny when my friend from Germany came to visit and even though we spoke 3 languages between us (English, German, and Spanish), the Metro ticket vendor could only understand French. :P

Anyway, it’s a truly interesting experience being helpless like that. Although many Americans have European ancestry, the culture in Europe is quite different from what you expect from America, especially when you get away from the big cities. Simple things like staying at a small hotel were surprisingly difficult. From his text between photos, I’m sure Scott enjoyed a lot of the same confusion I have in the past.

The interesting thing is that this really puts things in perspective. For example, you can talk about “intuitive interfaces” in games, but you don’t really understand how much of that “intuitiveness” is learned. Some might call a menu with pictures an “intuitive interface”, but you quickly learn that what you saw isn’t always what you get in a place where you don’t speak the language. You also start noticing different cultural things. It’s one thing to hear about Korean PC Baangs, but it seems that all the stories didn’t quite prepare Scott for what he finally saw.

Unfortunately, I fear the only people that will understand this are people who have done what Scott and I have. Too often people like to live in their familiar little lives without stepping outside and doing something different. Plunging into a new culture can be quite a shock, but it can also teach you a lot about the world. And, as Richard Bartle has shown us, sometimes it takes a different view on things for them to finally make some sort of sense.

Then again, things may never make sense for most people. :)


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3 Comments »

  1. In the course of my game related activities I travel to a few countries around the place, but Germany and the USA are the most common. Typically I travel to both once or twice a year. My initial raction to your assertion that Germany left your feeling alien was puzzlement, but then realised that this probably has more to do with culture and less to do with language than you think. In my experience the vast majority of Germans speak at least some english, but to a large extent their willingness to use it depends alot on how you approach. I often find that if I make a sincere but grossly incompetant attempt to speak german, people will respond in english, but starting in english is seen as rude, and will often be ignored. I am pretty sure I would be a lot more lost in a far eastern country. There are cultural differences I have to deal with in Germany, but I suspect they are less pronounced than they are for you.

    By contrast, I initially found the USA quite a difficult place to adjust to culturally, despite it being a country that primarily speaks my native language. Its been quite a while now since my first visit, but I can remember finding that many basic subconcious cultural assumptions just weren’t true. After 15 years, and 10 trips, I still get caught out by things like not being able to drink alcohol on the street, cars that will wait for me to cross the street, and working out when I should tip. I haven’t been busted for jaywalking yet, but it can only be a matter of time.

    Comment by Alistair Riddoch — 24 May, 2006 @ 11:43 AM

  2. You are right, Al, it’s the cultural differences in addition to the language differences. But, there’s an additional element of feeling like an alien if you can’t even ask a question from a random passer-by because you don’t speak the language.

    The first few times we went to Germany, our licensee was in a small town where there were less people that spoke English. There were also less places that catered to an international crowd. The first hotel we stayed at was very confusing in the customs. And, yes, I should have tried to learn more German, but I’m American and knowing Spanish and English should be enough! ;) Of course, when I was with someone I knew I could get information.

    When our licensee moved to a larger city, there were less cultural issues. The hotel was more like we expected, the waitress in the restaurant area actually spoke English, and there was a Walmart nearby that was still strange, but had that air of tacky American familiarity. ;) There was a better chance that someone on the street spoke at least a bit of English to help us out.

    But, the experience of being in the small German town and being totally separated in terms of culture and language was an experience. It’s different than going to a country where you at least partially know the language. It really makes you understand how different our cultural assumptions really are, especially when you can’t just ask someone for a bit of help. I think many people, especially Americans, don’t really grasp this concept. Most either stick to the highly tourist parts or don’t wander far from friends. That’s why Scott’s travelogue was really interesting for me, because he went a bit off the beaten path and had a truly alien experience.

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 May, 2006 @ 5:21 PM

  3. Weekend Design Challenge: Cultural differences…

    Sometime it’s easy for us Americans to get bogged down in our own little world and forget that there are other countries outside our borders besides Canada and Mexico. I’ve written before about cultural confusion when you’re in a country that is ve…

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 7 January, 2007 @ 5:57 AM

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