Cultural Awareness 101 a la Gangnam Style!

Jessica Lee Current Affairs, Jessica Lee, Pop Culture

Some things get lost in translation.

Let’s talk about that.

First – let’s get it out of the way. Who hasn’t seen the video Gangnam Style at this point? You are OFFICIALLY LIVING UNDER A ROCK if you haven’t. It’s hit over 221 million views on YouTube. It is the biggest song in the world right now. Watch it if you haven’t seen it yet:

221 million views. Pretty wild, yeah? So now that we’ve got the video out of the way – the singer, Psy, has been on the US news circuit. He’s doing interviews, he’s making appearances on the MTV VMA’s, The Today Show and more… and I’ve got to say – I’m pretty proud. I see this South Korean guy – pretty non-traditional for a Korean pop star and he has this music video the world is absolutely captivated by.

So I keep tuning in to interviews. I’ve been reading a ton about him… and I can’t help but to keep coming back to… how much is getting lost in translation? And how often does stuff routinely get lost in translation that we overlook as we interact with each other? Including in the workplace?

Take for example… I’m watching this Ryan Seacrest interview of Psy. They start talking about Psy’s life in Korea as a pop star, and how he differs from all the other fledgling K-pop stars. And then they start talking about Psy’s role in K-Pop in Korea. He’s the older guy who watches younger pop stars go global, come back to Korea, defeated by the agony a

nd pressure of trying to transcend from K-pop star to global pop star. Poor them. So he buys them drinks and tells them “Fighting!”. Kind of an ordinary if not boring sounding part of the interview. Seacrest doesn’t flinch much at this… yet I’m sitting at home half laughing and half crying because it’s so funny, yet so sad. If you’re Korean.

Did you get what was funny and sad there? It’s OK. Answer honestly.

For a Korean… there’s so much to dissect here. He’s the older one – which means he’s always responsible for the bill. It’s customary. Yet he’s having to buy drinks and welcome back to Korea these younger stars who have seemingly hit it bigger than him on the global stage. He’s still the one buying drinks though. And because he’s the older one, he’s also playing the role of big brother – encouraging them to keep at it, don’t let the global stage intimidate you. And it’s done with this word: Fighting. A common Korean rally cry – Fighting! It's not antagonistic by any means. It's a cry of support. Encouragement. For them to continue on doing what he wasn't able to achieve. Until now.

But I think I was the only one laughing. But almost crying too at how awkward his situation must have been to celebrate and encourage these younger ones who were getting so much more notoriety than him. Until now. Yet all that got lost in translation when he tells stories like these in English.

Sometimes words are not just words. Sometimes you've got to dig a little deeper and look beyond the surface. Listen carefully – really carefully. Ask, don’t assume. And don’t forget humor is universal.