Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Foreign or Exotic?

Shappi Khorsandi, a female British-Iranian stand-up comic says that "Exotic means the same thing as foreign, except you don't dislike it."

Exotic conjures up images of the far east or the New World. It is exciting colourful, sensuous and maybe a bit sexy. Foreign means something from another culture, but the word somehow lacks the exciting emotive power of the other word.

I am convinced that the English pronounce the word 'foreign' with a certain acidity. When we say the word 'foreign', there is a slight tightening of the mouth and a subtle narrowing of the eyes.

I have mentioned before about the different reactions of British and Americans to shoe removal in Scandinavia and the Far East. Expatriates in Japan and other Asian countries usually love removing their shoes and often bring the custom back, while many expatriates in Scandinavian countries find it really irritating. I suspect that the exotic/ foreign distinction at work.

When a tourist in Thailand has to go barefoot in restaurants and guest houses in Thailand, it is exotic. It is a taste of the colourful and sensuous east. On the other hand, when the same person is on a business trip to Norway and his Norwegian business partner makes him walk about the house in socks, it is foreign. Just like all the other foreign things he hates like undercooked steaks in French restaurants, bossy German policemen, overpriced everything in tourist areas and disdainful Italian waitresses.

Foreign is different, but it has a familiarity to it. Shoes-off in Japan reflects the beautiful alienness of that whole culture, shoes-off in Sweden just reminds you of those irritating fussy people back home (like me) who make you take your shoes-off to protect their carpets.

Nevertheless, we have to challenge our prejudices. We may find that steaks served very rare can be pleasently different. We may find that Germans do have a sense of humour and those Italian waitresses are quite pretty even if they think you don't deserve to be in their restaurant. And you may find that even if Nordic people are fussy about their floors, it actually makes a lot of sense taking shoes off.


Moderate Mouse said...

You have the word "pronounce" in the third paragraph spelled "pronouce".

Sandro said...

MM, your constant permanent proof-reading is worth the highest appreciation )

Anonymous said...

Not sure whether this is of interest, but I was staying in a hotel on business last night.

When I went to check out early this moring the receptoionist ( a young lady called Bev) was wearing a smart business suit (jacket and skirt) and stockinged feet.

I stay there quite a lot and had never seen her with her shoes off before. She expalined that in the last few days she had twice been caught in the rain and did'nt have a dry pair of formal shoes to wear!!

Moderate Mouse said...

Thanks Sandro.

richyrich said...

Where was this Anonymous?

Sandro said...

You are welcome, MM