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Minor Annoyance #627: Chinese Remote Controls


A point that I only make very general references to in the Guide is that even for one who has lived in China for years (and has presumably already reached the assimilation stage of culture shock), day-to-day life in the Middle Kingdom is still...well...trying.

After close to seven years in China, it's not the "big things" like crowding, air pollution, or even poor public hygiene that wear you down: It's the hundreds of little things that do.

Last week we purchased a Philips digital video recorder (DVR-2008). We subscribe to two satellite TV systems and receive both Dream TV from the Philippines and, with the second system, a bundled package of stations from Hong Kong, including HBO and Cinemax. I thought it might be nice to have the capacity to record shows I either don't have the time to watch or have a tendency to fall asleep on (such as season 6 of House which is now being aired at 10:00 p.m. on Thursdays). I'm an early riser (5:00 to 6:00 a.m.), so staying awake until 11:00 p.m. is often a challenge for me.

The salesman in Gomei A large chain appliance and electronics store throughout China made a point of boasting about how the Philips DVR-2008 had an English menu. What he failed to point out is that--like all other appliances sold in China--the remote control is entirely written in Chinese characters.

Okay, okay... this is China after all and, from that perspective alone, it does make sense that the buttons on all remote controls for TVs, air conditioners, satellite receivers, DVD players, and the like would be noted in Chinese.

On the other hand, with over 12 years of mandatory English language classes required of anyone who has attended high school and college over the past 20 years, would it really be that much of an imposition on the Chinese for international companies selling their goods in China to use simple English abbreviations and words such as FF, A/V, or Main Menu?

Is China becoming internationalized or not? Is there really any functional need for the English language in China outside of it being an academic exercise for earning a good score on the Gao Kao China's national college entrance exam and impressing one's first employer with Chinglish language skills that will never be called into service after the initial interview?

Which of the two is more reasonable: To expect the Chinese to use a modicum of their English language skills in real life or, in the alternative, expect all foreigners who live in China to master thousands of logographics?

So, for now, the next time one of my students comes over for a visit, I'll have to remember to ask him or her to translate yet another remote control for me. I'll map out the translations on a piece of paper and in time will eventually memorize them along with the button positions on the remotes for my three different air conditioners, two TVs, DVD players, and satellite receivers.

I was never very good at the game Concentration.

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# RE: Minor Annoyance #627: Chinese Remote ControlsJustin 2010-04-14 17:23
This made me chuckle and I think I know the answer to your question (you're not going to like it). I suspect they won't take to English in China with any conviction until they can't get around without it in everyday life.

A language learned and not used daily is a language lost as I know to my loss. I moved to Germany at age 4 and dropped off in kindergarten with one phrase "Wo ist der Toilet?" but being a kid I quickly picked up the language and was told by adoring German parents that my German was flawless.

Then came the day I returned to China, having no one really to speak it with compounded by an embarrassing incident when I got flustered in Chinese class and started shouting in German, I've stopped using it and thinking in it. Lo and behold, when I tried using it again after a couple of years, it was gone.

I suspect that English can be lost in a similar way.
# I can Totally understand.Magnus 2010-04-17 22:29
Wow. Is this really annoyance number 627? I am totally with you in being annoyed at the whole remote control thing. I think everyone has a "REMOTE MAP" at there home in China. After a while you don't need the map but at the beginning... you definitely need it. Of course even on the English remotes, there are things that I don't even know what they are... some code, or some acronym or something...

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