Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walking a mile...

There are a number of websites (google and therefore blogger is one) in which they have chosen to have all the different commands be represented in the language of the IP address of your computer. If you never leave your country of origin or you never go some place where another language is the native tongue, this is not an issue. However, some of us do travel. Not just people like me who go and live somewhere, but flight attendants, sales people, retired folks, etc. who visit and experience different cultures for the short term.

A problem we didn't plan on pops up. When we log onto a computer, we can't read it.


In an internet cafe, it's fine that the other language comes up - of course! But MY computer? MY blog? I can't get into my own writings because I can't read the directions? Some websites (wordpress for example) allow the writer (that's me) to choose the language and then they respect my choice. They don't change the words so I can't read my own blog directions. Some other websites (MSN and Yahoo for example) come up in the native language with a little flag or sign that allows you to change the language with one click. That seems very reasonable. Respect the local language, but don't make foreigners (there are ONE MILLION of us in So. Korea alone) be abandonded to ignorance.

I've been reading up on how to fix this on Blogger because one of my friends invited me to read her private blog. She's spending a year at wilderness camp, learning to live off the land, how to read the stars and to track, and I don't know what all, but it sounds realy cool! So I click on the link she sends me (the link is in English, she's in the USA, she speaks only English), and then the page that comes up is all in Korean! I have no idea which of the 15 or so buttons I should click. There is no option to change her page to English (I can't even change my own page to English for reading purposes). So what to do? It took about 15 minutes to figure it out. *I signed into my gmail account and then tried again. My gmail account was made while I was in the USA - thank goodness - and allowed me to get the English version of things. Now I can read her blog! Yay!

I'm reading the responses to people who have asked google about this on the forums. The responses often say something like "If you go to another country, you should learn the language." Ummm ok. So, I shouldn't be able to use my own? I shouldn't be able to communicate with other native English speakers? I shouldn't be able to access my own accounts? I should be even more cut off from communication until I learn to read Korean really well? That will take at least a year. And what about when I travel to Japan for a few days or a couple of weeks? I shouldn't be able to post photos or share my experiences with anyone because I can't read Japanese? As an aside, have you ever tried to learn Japanese? I mean seriously? Do you know how many characters they have in their language? Let's not even consider Chinese!

So, to the naysayers who sit in their happy little chairs telling me that it is part of the travel experience... Let me say this. Get a passport. Go visit somewhere and see how difficult simple day to day living is. I'm not talking about staying at the Seoul Hilton or the Beijing Ritz or the Tokyo Embassy Suites. Those are places wehere the staff all speak English and will take you to all the really nice tourist attractions where everyone speaks English or at least the signs are in English.

I'm talking about getting an apartment where the rental agreement is in a language you can't read. You don't recognize the food in the grocery store or what the menu says in a restaurant. You can't navigate the bus system or even find someone to ask for help. You can't see a doctor because you can't read the phone book. You overpay because you can't get the discount card because you can't read the application and no one can help you. You can't even try to figure stuff out because the words and letters of the language look like a doodle and you can't see the difference between one symbol and another.

After you do that, and you end up crying in the subway trying to figure out where you are going, or you get so angry and frustrated with trying to get a meal that you end up at the local McDonald's instead of trying the amazing local cuisine, or you stay in your room watching old episodes of NCIS because you can't figure out how to get anywhere... after you have those experiences, you come and tell me how I should learn these other languages just so I can write this note on my computer or call my mother from skype or upload a picture to my flickr account. Yeah, come here. I have an extra pair of mocassins I'm happy to share.

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