You know how it's been trendy for a while for white Americans to get Chinese or Japanese characters -- sorry, "Hanzi" or "Kanji" -- as tattoos? The idea seems to be that if you get the English words "STRONG" or "BEAUTIFUL" tattooed on your arm, you look like a bragging retard, but if you get it in Japanese, it is suddenly meaningful.
Chinese words are deep.
By no means am I discouraging wannabe exotic kids from continuing this practice, because it leads to hilarity like a man proudly showing off a tattoo he thinks says "spirit" but actually says "gas". Or a guy thinking he's wearing his daughter's name in Chinese when it actually says "woman healthy flow".
This was supposed to be "beautiful" but it's actually "disaster". Kind of recursively appropriate.
Some people might protest that they don't get Asian characters JUST because it's foreign, but because the characters are artistic and beautiful, unlike plain old English. Well, some Chinese teens think differently, getting exotic English tattoos that say things like "PrayGod" or tattoos in Greek they don't understand. As one girl says: "I think it says, 'I'll love you forever.' I didn't have any particular reason. I just liked the way the Greek letters looked." Sub "Japanese" for "Greek" and that exact statement is being uttered somewhere right now on an American college campus.
You still can't beat a homegrown stupid English tattoo though.
Ascribing deep meaning to Asian characters where none exists isn't confined to teens and hipsters. For years, motivational speakers and the like have been touting how the Chinese word for "crisis" is made of "danger" and "opportunity," which (1) is bullshit and (2) is a little insulting as it implies Chinese words were created to teach lessons, unlike any other culture where words are created because you need to say that thing.
"All right, guys, we're working on 'crisis' today. Let's come up with something that will really impress white people in the future."
What would you think if you saw a Chinese motivational speaker teaching his audience that female family members cannot be relied upon to keep their heads in a crisis because the English word for crisis is made of "cry" and "sis"? You laugh, but considering there's 1.3 billion Chinese, someone's probably doing it.
"So when crisis comes, LOCK THEM IN THE BASEMENT."
Finally we have the people who remind you at every opportunity that they have traveled to foreign countries, or have read things about foreign countries, or are very much aware that foreign countries exist.
"Oh, I see you've noticed our Tibetan prayer flags."
See if any of these phrases seem familiar:
"It's just starting to get popular here, but everybody was playing it in Japan when I was there."
"You know, the Balinese have a saying..."
"I once had an authentic version of this dish in a street market in Hong Kong."
"That is just terrible about the Chilean miners. I talked to my friend from Peru, which is near Chile, and he thinks it's very sad."
Sure, someone saying one or two of these things occasionally wouldn't be too terrible, but if this is actually a pattern in your life, that's when you need to learn to find new friends. If you find yourself saying it, you should learn a lesson from the Trappist monks I encountered when visiting La Trappe Abbey when I was in France: Shut up.
And then make up for it by making me some beer like they did.