Business Insider and the Western Centric Arrogance (Oversimplification, again)

A couple of articles from Business Insider just gave me the chance to talk again of the interconnected world cultural oversimplification problem, and the (lack of) responsibility of professional information provider (not only journalists, I mean.)

The Italian edition of Business Insider publishes an article from a Chris Weller, whose title is

8 modi folli in cui il Giappone sta affrontando la sua bomba demografica pronta ad esplodere

This translation – 8 crazy ways Japan is facing its ready-to-blow demographic bomb – is wrong, because the original Japanese title reads:

日本の「人口時限爆弾」との向き合い方 — 海外からは奇妙に見えるものも

Where the “奇妙” kanji actually means “strange” or “curious”: words that are not even faintly related to the Italian title that uses the word “folli” (“mad”, “insane” or “crazy”).

Another Business Insider’s article, authored by a Mariangela Tessa, accounts for the Japanese job interview and, again, the title (and the tone of the article) carry an arrogance aura:

Il Giappone ha fame di lavoratori, ma le regole del colloquio sono da incubo (lingua a parte)

The translation reads: “Japan is hungry of workers but the job interview rules are a nightmare (language apart)” So, let’s have a quick look at this article and at the nightmares that, accordingly to Tessa, would affect the job-seeker:

  • follow the dress code (wear a black suit and a white shirt,
  • follow the look code (avoid facial hairs)
  • knock on the door and wait that somebody opens it,
  • wait to be seated,
  • bow properly,
  • be on time,

First, this list doesn’t strike as a particularly tough. None of the western big companies HR Manager I met would find it inappropriate, and it is simply obvious that if you want to work in a country you should know the language.

Second, “nightmare” should have actually been spelled as “cultural diversity”. The fact that Tessa find a specific behaviour odd, doesn’t make it so. It only means that she has a different cultural rule-set. So, her approach can be summarized as: “since “that” is different by the things I’m use to know and I don’t understand it, then “that” is odd”.

Of course, neither Japan nor any other country are “perfect”. But there is a difference between explaining the way another culture works and applying a “western superiority” filter to the picture we’re showing our friends with the aim of making them “understand”.

Sure, this rather snobbish, Western-centric approach is nothing new. But as I wrote in my previous post, oversimplification in an interconnected world is dangerous, because information-seeking people relies upon what “information professionals” tell them. If the information source is poisoned by lack of accuracy, actual knowledge of the topic and first hand experience, the “information drinker” risks something worse than a katzenjammer.

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