Posted by: Jonathan | December 28, 2007

TV in Other Countries

Television, the drug of the nation…Contrary to what you might think, given the speed at which globalization seems to be homogenizing the world, our planet is a big place and even the most fortunate, intrepid and, most importantly, privately-wealthy amongst us will find it impossible to see everything. They might see as much as they want to see, but they’ll never see everything.

However, one of the things that nearly everyone sees, wherever they are in the world, is TV. You can argue the quality of television (I’ll echo my grandfather here, “it really isn’t what it used to be”), but you can’t argue that the medium is an effective and popular one.

I remember, years ago, watching some show about these American kids going on a trip somewhere in Europe and one of the kids saying “Dude, I can’t wait to check out what TV looks like in other countries!” At the time, I was struck by the small-mindedness of the comment, but after thinking about it some more, it occurred to me that what TV looks like in other countries could be as interesting as any other facet of a foreign culture or country. Indeed, while I’ve certainly not made it a point to sit myself down and slavishly watch TV when I’m abroad, it certainly offers a window into a culture. For example, I remember watching the French equivalent of “The Weakest Link” in which a larger, more lesbianic version of the presenter of the British version, Anne Robinson, asked the questions in exactly the same supercilious style as the original, and I thought the French are copying the British here. Then, during a commercial break – the show was broadcast in the early evening – I watched a very attractive young lady disrobe and begin lathering herself with shower gel, offering full frontal (above the waist, of course – children could be watching!) shots to the purchasing public, and thought that perhaps there remained some fundamental differences between British and French television.

I know this story sounds apocryphal, but it is absolutely true and, in fact, watching quiz shows in French and then trying to beat the contestants to the answer (and say it in French) is a fantastic way to improve your language skills. Understanding and responding at speed is tough, but even harder when you’re pulling the answer from things you learned in your native tongue and then have to translate to another before a bunch of native speakers can press the buzzer. See? TV can be educational! Don’t listen to your mother!

Indeed, as an Englishman living in America married to a woman who is mildly obsessed with popular culture, I am exposed to a lot of awful, cringe-worthy television that has taught me a great deal about my adopted home, the tastes and attitudes of its people, the functioning of its economy, and the influence of the outside world. However, these topics are too broad to deal with here, or in a single post, so I’ll write more on them later. For now, keep watching TV, and if you can’t watch it abroad, add some foreign stations to your cable subscription and watch them at home instead.

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