When I first started learning French, the book we’ve been using started with description of what B.C.B.G. is. Not the Max Azria fashion brand, but ‘Bon Chic, Bon Genre’ – an early 90’s fashion movement in France, which 15 years later English-speaking kids picked up as the basis of their hipster look.
The characters in the book then went on about the clothes boutiques at Champs Elysees and Galeries Lafayette. It was then that I first discovered how easily the national stereotypes can be enforced through learning a language. The French, it seemed from the book, were all about fashion, wine, cheese and chanson.
“Champs Elysees”, the first (and only) French song I’ve ever learned.
It’s now the same with Japanese. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my trips to Japan (and there’s much more than just one) is that these people are obsessed with food. They will talk about it like the English will about weather and Poles about history and politics. And sure enough, our Japanese lessons turn around eating and drinking. It seems all you really need to get by are two verbs: ‘taberu’ (eat) and ‘nomu’ (drink) – and an array of superlative adjectives. Almost every lesson starts with the question ‘what have you eaten today?’ or ‘have you eaten anything good lately?’ or ‘do you know any good places to eat?’ The dialogues, exercises and vocabularies follow the theme.
If French be the language of love (and fashion, apparently) – the Japanese is the language of good food.
Works for me.
(Oh and by the way, judging from that one language book I’ve been browsing, the Germans are mostly concerned with drinking coffee. Which kind of matches my observations of germanic-speaking people, so far.)