July 07, 2006

Cultural Differences

Non-Americans (N = 2) seem not to know about Punxsutawney Phil. Apparently they thought that the movie was called Groundhog Day because (for obscure reasons) this particular day, for this particular character, involved a groundhog.

(This came up at dinner when someone suggested 'groundhog' and 'woodchuck' as exact synonyms and I said, "Well, you don't wait for a woodchuck to see its shadow." Confusion ensued. Perhaps the English have a similar tradition that distinguishes between furze and gorse.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at July 7, 2006 01:33 AM

Okay, now I'm confused.

I grew up in Canada so I had never heard of Punxsutawney Phil, either, though we do have Groundhog's Day. I thought any old groundhog would do.

It was only some time after I had seen the movie that I heard that Phil was a real groundhog and not just a character in the movie.

Posted by: dagger aleph at July 7, 2006 09:04 AM

Completely typical experience, DA. It wasn't until I came to the states in the sixties I realized "Smokey the Bear," symbol of the Forest Service's fire safety program, was based on a real bear at the Washington Zoo, who had been turned into an icon.

There used to be "Jasper" a frisky symbol of the great Rocky Mountain parks developed by the CPR and its practice of putting chateaus in beautiful settings, a one-panel cartoon for kids in MacCleans.

Posted by: I don't pay at July 7, 2006 11:49 AM

Wait. Is the claim in the post that non-Americans (except Canadians, who, I mean, really) don't know about groundhog day, full stop? Or just that particular groundhog? B/c despite the fame of that particular groundhog, the day is not named for him; it's just clever marketing by the city fathers.

Posted by: bitchphd at July 7, 2006 02:12 PM

Given Bruce's quote, it seems that they don't know of the holiday at all (unlike Canadians, who just don't know about Phil). Also, Smokey the Bear was from New Mexico.

Posted by: teofilo at July 7, 2006 05:50 PM

It seemed that these particular non-North Americans were unaware of the existence of the holiday. I'm not sure that Punxsutawney Phil was mentioned by name, certainly not till after puzzlement had been expressed about the shadow-seeing.

Is it really called Groundhog's Day in Canada? With the apostrophe?

I didn't know Smokey the Bear was based on a real bear until just now. I'd call it more neglect of the West, but you know, Lubbock.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 8, 2006 02:34 AM

The slightly more official name seems to be Smokey Bear, btw. Lots of good stuff in there; note the "Smokey the Bear Sutra," which I would read if I had more time now, and Bart Simpson's trouble with indexicals.

Incidentally the bit about Groundhog Day in the post is not intended to make fun of non-Americans. I'm sure there are many obvious references in movies from other countries that I think are particular to those movies, though for obvious reasons I can't name any.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 8, 2006 02:40 AM

The Wikipedia folks also say that the New Mexico Smokey was named after the ad campaign, not vice versa. I saw an Australian counterpart to New Mexico Smokey today, Lucky the Koala.

(And I'm leaving Australia tomorrow morning. Teofilo take note.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 8, 2006 02:44 AM

Somewhat parallel, local knowledge versus global: a group of people on a walking tour (two USians, one Australian, two Germans, and the Englishman leading) were talking about accents. I said that Bugs Bunny had a Brooklyn accent--he sounded exactly like my uncle. The Englishman (a dashing, rakish young guy) was astonished. "I just thought he spoke the way they thought bunnies would sound."

Posted by: Matt's mom at July 8, 2006 02:00 PM

You're not really from Lubbock, Bruce.

Posted by: teofilo at July 8, 2006 07:58 PM

Hm. It appears to be "Groundhog Day," without the apostrophe, though that sounds wrong to my ear. I guess I'm no better than all those people I laugh at for saying "Barnes and Noble's."

That's a hilarious anecdote, Matt's Mom. That is totally not how I'd imagine bunnies talking, if they could talk.

Posted by: dagger aleph at July 9, 2006 08:04 PM

More germane to the question of exact synonyms: On the same walking tour (in the Lake District in England) I learned that "pudding" is a usual term in England for the sweet things that you eat at the end of a meal. "Dessert," the usual U.S. term, is either not used or is felt as lah-di-dah (pretentious). I grew up saying "couch" and thinking that "sofa" was more upper-class, and later met someone who said "sofa" and thought that "couch" was more upper-class, or uppity. Let alone "davenport." So maybe words that are exact translations (from one regional dialect to another) are not exact synonyms (if you count connotation).

Posted by: Matt's mom at July 10, 2006 03:19 PM

And then there's "chesterfield", which no one outside of Canada seems to use, though it's disappearing in favor of "couch."

Have you seen this website: Separated by a Common Language? It's all about the differences between US and British English and it's absolutely fascinating.

Posted by: dagger aleph at July 11, 2006 07:17 AM

And why the hell doesn't the Interweb contain the annotated "Waltzing Matilda" from America: The Book?

Oh, in re: pudding and desert I got tripped up in Australia by "entrée," which there means "appetizer." Which, as they pointed out to me, makes much more sense. I think I ate at a lah-di-da place that had both entrées and appetizers.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 11, 2006 08:10 AM