You may remember I’ve written a couple of posts about the excellent Horti Fruti adverts that show up from time to time on the metro. The format tends to be an illustration of a fruit or vegetable in the place of some human character with a caption that plays on either the name or the origin of the item in question.
Take a look at the latest one:
Kung-food – not bad right? But what about the rest of the phrase? The word for for “master” is mestre, but they have spelt it with an L, mestle. “Huh?” I thought at first. Then it dawned on me. They are doing that thing – making fun of the way some Chinese people say Rs like Ls.
When I was a kid people would commonly make this joke by saying flied lice (instead of “fried rice” of course). Since those days attitudes have changed in the UK – many people would see this joke as racist. Imagine a kid of Chinese descent being taunted with imaginary food orders in the playground and you get the picture.
What do you think of this kind of humour? Certainly some people find this kind of thing offensive, but it could be argued that it’s just imitating an accent for laughs. As far as I know, no one seems to have a problem when people come back from say, Jamaica, and do that stereotypical accent (Hey mon). Or do they?
I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that there will be quite a range of attitudes to this. I’ve mentioned the Horti Fruti advert to a few Brazilians and they have looked at me like I’m crazy. They roll their eyes and said “People are too sensitive!”.
Now don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t about accusing Brazilians of being racist. I just think that it’s really interesting that attitudes regarding what is and isn’t acceptable (in terms of language and humour) are clearly different in different countries. That Horti Fruti advert made me think of an incident that occurred back in 2008.
The Spanish basketball team were having a team photo-shoot just before heading out to Beijing for the Olympic Games and posed like this:
As I recall, there was an outcry in many countries, with people accusing the Spanish of being racist, but the Spanish themselves (and plenty of others) were somewhat bewildered. The president of the Spanish Basketball federation summed this feeling up: “It’s simply ridiculous. It was a gesture of affection … an identification with the Chinese people.”
Personally I’m not sure there was any racist intention with that photo, but clearly attitudes to race are very different in Spain compared to the UK. In the same year as that Olympic photo, Spanish Formula 1 fans dressed like this when Lewis Hamilton (a British driver with a black father and white mother) came to Barcelona:
When one fan was interviewed regarding these Alonso supporters, his response was “This is madness. It was all just part of the game. And anyway, Hamilton isn’t even really black, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Perhaps the English are trying to hide their own problems by making such a big story out of it”. Although that response strikes me as ridiculous, it’s only fair to point out that Britain is no racial utopia.
Putting race to one side and returning to Brazil, I’m interested to hear what you think about this: on several occasions I have heard Brazilians call each other mongoloid when they do something stupid. I’ve always heard it used as good natured teasing (no malice), but I was very surprised to hear it. When I asked about this and explained that for most people in Britain “mongoloid” would be a really bad thing to say, the reply was a breezy “Oh, well it’s fine to say it here”.
I think a good test is this: would you call your friend a mongoloid when there was a kid with Down’s Syndrome in the room? When I asked people about that, they were more thoughtful and said they probably wouldn’t say it in that context.
What do you think about all this? Do you use these terms? Is this just people being too sensitive? Or is there a serious point beneath the language and humour that people use?
Just as a final point, I wanted to say that it seems to me that in many respects, Brazil has healthier attitudes towards race than the UK. Certainly there seems to be far less separation between between people of different ancestry here. I don’t want this to seem like one big accusation – some things are just different, I’m not judging.