Language and Culture are inextricably connected, and to master a language of any country surely requires a strong grasp of its traditions, manners, beliefs, and other aspects of culture.
Getting a proper fill of culture is one of the most difficult things about studying a foreign language self-taught when not in a country where that language is primarily spoken. Fortunately, you can use study resources like books to help you get partway there.
“Culture” itself is such a vague topic without much of a clear definition, except it’s something that people of a country typically do (official definitions in the dictionary aside). Take, for example, the children’s joke “pull my finger”, which is probably familiar to most children of a certain generation in the U.S., and yet I doubt it gets too much exposure overseas. Of course, this isn’t a terribly meaningful tradition, but it is a part of history and culture nonetheless. If you talk to enough people from a certain country or culture, you can start to pick these up over time.
It can be fun to learn to learn the word games (another piece of culture) of children in other countries, and it’s even more educational if they have some connection to language. One example is saying “glove” backwards in Japanese, which I wrote on sometime back.
In this post I wanted to discuss a random children’s saying I learned recently, which is how to describe who someone is based on how they peel a banana, specifically how many pieces the skin opens up into (like the opening of a flower).
Here is the list I was told:
- Two pieces: a person
- Three pieces: a monkey
- Four pieces: a dead person
- Five pieces: Godzilla
Despite how they may look at first, these are not randomly assigned. The connections to each number are conveyed at all in English. Here is it in Japanese with comments on each
- Two pieces: 人間 (ningen): a person [ningen, the ‘ni’ is from the number two (ni)]
- Three pieces: お猿 (osaru): a monkey [osaru, the ‘sa’ comes from number three (san)]
- Four pieces: 死んだ人: a dead person [The number four is ‘shi’, which also means death (死)]
- Five pieces: ゴジラ: Godzilla [Godzilla, the ‘go’ comes from the number five (go)]
So you may be wondering what is the point of all this? I think the idea is that when you open a banana, you are not planning on how many flaps it will open up into, so there is an element of luck. So when your friend opens up a banana and it happens to split into three, you can say “ha ha, you’re a monkey!”.
Keep in mind this is just an anecdote I heard, and I can’t say whether it was shared by just a handful of people, or an entire generation.
There may be more after the ones I listed, if you know what six is let me know (: