Thursday, April 20, 2006

Compounded clash and confusion of cultures :: Khaleej Times

John 3:16 ends up in the wrong place

A customer who visited the Shop No. 44 run by a Chinese seller, said: “I was shocked at the words printed on the underwear. The words read: ‘For God So Love the World that He Gave His Only Begotten Son’. These words should be written on a respectable object, not on underwears.”

She added: “I talked to the salesperson about it and warned her not to sell these underwear, but she brushed me off, saying ‘take it or leave it’. When I told her I will not buy it, she asked me to leave her shop before she calls the security.
. . .
Ghada Gabriel said that there are many people who don’t know how to read English. They would feel bad if they buy the underwear and use it with God and Jesus Christ printed on it. These products which are made in China should immediately be withdrawn from the markets in the country not only from the Al Shaab Club in Sharjah.”
These are the sorts of wacky things that can happen in this country, where English is the language almost everyone communicates with (barely) when they have no other language in common - which is very, very often.

This story begins with a Chinese manufacturer in China seeking to make a product that this attractive to Christians, but lacking even basic cultural knowledge he produced a product that no English speaking Christian would buy - unless they had a perverse sense of humor.

Now what do you do with a boatload (literally) of stuff that doesn't sell with the intended customer? For some reason a lot of that stuff gets shipped to the entrepot which is the UAE, but does not gets shipped out again. So you end up with some Chinese vendor (yes, we've got all bases covered here in the Emirates) retailing these made-in-China made-for-Christian panties being market in a local market frequented by Muslims. Very likely the vendor does not have a clue what the words are, they just know that some women seem to prefer cheap panties with words on them.

And then a Muslim customer who can read English comes along and is picking through reams of panties and finds a batch with the words God and Jesus written on them. The customer becomes animated with the shopkeeper (who seems to have assumed the customer is asking for the seller's "best price" (which often involves disparaging the product you are seeking to buy)) and you can see where this is going.

Somehow this reminds me of the jar of local honey I bought when I first arrived in the UAE. Among the health claims printed on the label: good for male importance problems.

Cultural misunderstanding is so common here in the Emirates that my sense is that most reasonable people of all cultures have adopted a generous policy of "give the benefit of the doubt" when offense might be taken but likely was not intended. Looking for the humor in the clash is a constructive approach.

Cross-posted at The Emirates Economist.

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