6 Things You Never Knew Were Mega Popular In Other Countries
Western culture spreads to every part of the globe, infecting the world with its customs, traditions, and countless superhero movies. But those aren't always the parts that make the biggest impact. Sometimes a country will glom onto the most unexpected thing and run with it in a way we never thought possible. For example ...
Anne Frank Is A Manga Icon
It's somehow a bold stance to take in 2019, but the Nazis were really bad and did really bad things. That's why it's important to read books like The Diary Of Anne Frank, written by a Dutch Jewish girl whose innocence and bravery put a human face on the many victims of the Holocaust. After the war, her story traveled across the world, becoming the most translated Dutch book of all time. But it seems something is different in the Japanese translation, because instead of viewing her as a martyr, Japan treats Frank like a bona fide superstar.
Japan, which saw a lot of civilian suffering during World War II, has connected hard with Anne Frank. Young Japanese women in particular idolize Frank for her spirit and strength during a time of great adversity. She's starred in musicals, movies, and of course, manga.
She even has a bright and colorful Studio-Ghibli-style cartoon -- which one critic described as "one of the worst [adaptations of] world literature anime ever made."
But the off-kilter hero worship doesn't end there. Frank briefly mentions menstruation in her diary, and to dismantle taboos around the subject in Japanese culture, a company took that as an excuse to release Anne-Frank-themed tampons back in 1968. The idea was to encourage young ladies to be as courageous with their periods as a young Jewish girl facing Nazi death squads.
It's quite an ersatz legacy -- Japanese women of a certain age still refer to their time of the month as "Anne's day."
Balkan States Build Statues Of Celebrities
The Balkan region has a bit of a reputation for divisiveness. That became very clear during the '90s, when the likes of Bosnians, Serbians, and Croats spent most of the grunge era trying to genocide each other. The region is still recovering from those bloody times, but the people have found a great way to speed up the healing process: erecting statues of random celebrities and movie characters.
In 2005, the village of Mostar, Bosnia put up a peace memorial consisting of, uh, a Bruce Lee statue. The competition was tough, with Gandhi and the Pope also in the running, but in the end, the people of Mostar agreed that the marital arts legend made for the best symbol of justice and healing in the Balkans.
Not to be outdone, the small village of in Banatski Sokolac erected a statue of Bob Marley in 2008 as a celebration of continued peace and tolerance, hoping the good vibes could override memories of ethnic cleansing.
And picking Marley as your Eastern European envoy of peace is pretty reasonable, at least compared to the statue of Rocky Balboa erected by their neighbors in Zitiste, who hoped the fictional boxer would drive off their historic bad luck.
So why are the Balkan peoples showing their national pride with statues of action stars and chill musicians? Because putting up statues of historical figures is way too controversial there. During the bloody Bosnian War, just about every group in the region was trying to kill the others. That means that 99 times out of 100, one man's hero is also the guy who butchered half of another man's extended family.
But you know who's not a war criminal? Bruce Lee. Or Bob Marley. Or Rocky (we shall not speak of Rambo). "We will always be Muslims, Serbs, or Croats, but one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee," said one member of the group behind the Mostar statue. And we totally agree. As long as we're talking about the real Bruce Lee, and not those knockoff dudes who sprang up after his death. You'll only burn us once, Bruce Le!
In Senegal, Scrabble Is A Major Sport
In Senegal, Scrabble is the country's biggest pastime next to football (non-American soccer, not real football), and slightly more important than breathing. In fact, the Senegalese take Scrabble so seriously that many schools have their own competitive teams. And they're not treated like the nerds in chess club, but more like varsity-lettered super studs.
Even the Senegalese government is in on the game. They offer more aid to the National Scrabble Federation than to most of their poor neighbors, and it's common for the president to meet with international Scrabble players. In 2008, when the Francophone World Championship was held in Senegal, the government declared it "one of the most important events of the year" and commissioned a special song.
And it's paid off. The Senegalese are top dogs in the French-speaking league, becoming the world champions in 2016 -- quite the achievement for a country where barely a tenth of the population is French-literate. Maybe it's because they just want it harder than any of the other countries. After all, they're the only ones in the league to show up in official uniforms.
Rutherford B. Hayes Is A National Hero In Paraguay
Your knowledge of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes likely goes no further than the fact that he was a president -- and with good reason. One of his greatest achievements was starting the White House Easter Egg Roll, which isn't exactly up there with the Emancipation Proclamation. Besides that and cleaning up after the Civil War, Hayes didn't accomplish much during his one term in office from 1877 to 1881, with historians generally ranking him just below average among presidents. But that opinion is not shared by the people of Paraguay, who think of him as the greatest American president in history.
During the Paraguayan War of 1864-1870, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay ganged up on Paraguay and turned it into a smoking ruin. All the little country could do by the end was send out child soldiers with fake beards carrying sticks painted to look like guns -- a strategy better suited for sneaking into R-rated movies than guerrilla warfare. Paraguay was defeated, and by the end of the war, was at serious risk of losing a large chunk of its territory to Argentina, which was doing the geopolitical equivalent of rifling through a corpse's pockets.
For some reason, all parties involved agreed that the dispute should be settled by none other than the United States. And to Argentina's great surprise, Hayes sided with struggling Paraguay, which likely saved it from being wiped off the map.
And the Paraguayans remember. Not only have they named schools, streets, transportation lines, and even football (again, soccer) teams after Hayes, but they even renamed one of their states after him: Presidente Hayes, whose capital city is Villa Hayes. Every single Paraguayan schoolchild learns about President Hayes and how he saved the country from ruin. Maria Teresa Garozzo, director of the Villa Hayes Museum, calls Hayes "a spectacular, immortal figure." To which most Americans would respond: "... him?'
Chinese Millennials Want Life To Be Like Friends
Statistically speaking, there isn't a single human being who has ever lived, lives, or will live who hasn't seen every episode of Friends at least twice. These days, most folks are content just letting episodes autoplay on Netflix while doing the laundry or being idly depressed. But there's still a place where Friends is a must-see cultural milestone: your mom's living room. Oh, and China.
Because of the emerging trend in China of people "having time off" and "spending that time hanging out," they've developed a surprisingly strong relationship with the Joey prequel. The sitcom serves as a peephole into free-spirited American culture. This goes especially for Chinese Millennials, with students using the show to learn English and core Western values, like being on breaks and not sharing food.
Friends is so big in China that several Chinese knockoffs of the show have already been made. Like the 2013 Chinese sitcom Planet Homebuddies, which was so obviously trying to be the Chinese Friends that they even hired the frontman of Rembrandts, of the Friends theme song fame, to score their intro.
There's even an exact replica, from the couch to the menu, of the Central Perk coffee shop in Beijing. The owner is so dedicated to authenticity that he had his name changed to Gunther. Classic Gunther move.
Gone With The Wind Is North Korea's Favorite Book
As millions of eighth-grade book reports will tell you, Gone With The Wind is one of America's most important novels. The 1936 book, about a whole nation ruined by war between the North and South, is seen by millions as the quintessential American experience. Did we say "American"? We meant Korean.
Over the years, Margaret Mitchell's epic has found many audiences around the world, but nowhere as big as in North Korea, whose population apparently has easier access to Confederate literature than food or medical supplies. Because of its "Yankees screwed us over" narrative, the book has landed on the state-controlled reading list, next to a bunch of third-string communist authors. In fact, it's one of only a handful of books automatically included in every North Korean iPad knockoff, with an introduction that says it's "particularly useful for understanding how modern capitalism spread to all of the United States."
Meanwhile, the movie (which is rumored to be Kim Jong-un's favorite) is used as a language training tool for government officials -- though it's still banned from the public due to the outrageous allure of Clark Gable's mustache. North Korean diplomats have even been known to quote, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," during negotiations.
But while the government expounds the novel's anti-federalist virtues, regular North Koreans are crazy about Gone With The Wind for a totally different reason: It's a great book with little competition. The North Korean literary scene is about as desiccated as its soil, so the people don't have a lot of options aside from government propaganda and centuries-old classics. For them, Gone With The Wind is as wild and fantastic as a novel can get ... at least for a country that may never be allowed to read that infamous imperialist manifesto Harry Potter.
Peter I. Santiago is just another weird dude with a Facebook page.
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