The Difficulty in Translating Seinfeld to Other Languages

This Verge piece profiles the difficulty in translating the sitcom Seinfeld to other languages. In particular, the show has had difficulty finding a solid audience in Europe (such as in Germany). Seinfeld often relied on word-based humor, American customs, and Jewish references–difficult to convey to other cultures.

Jokes are the hardest things to translate into another language, another culture, another world. A good script for dubbing an American sitcom for foreign consumption does more than literally translate. It manages to convey the same meaning, the same feeling, the same story — the same direct hit to the lower frontal lobes of the brain that produces a laugh, even though those frontal lobes are steeped in a completely different cultural brew.

More so than the average American sitcom, Seinfeld has had difficulty reaching global audiences. While it’s popular in Latin America, it hasn’t been widely accepted in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Two decades after it went off the air, Seinfeld remains relevant to American audiences — thanks in part to omnipresent syndicated reruns — but in much of Europe it is considered a cult hit, and commonly relegated to deep-late-night time slots. Its humor, it seems, is just too complicated, too cultural and word-based, to make for easy translation.

An interesting note on dubbing:

According to Israel-based translation company Trans-That, among European countries, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain tend to opt for the more expensive option of dubbing, while smaller countries like Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands prefer subtitles. Dubbing countries often have a long history with the practice that goes back to the beginnings of the film industry. In the 1930s, when many American films were being exported to Europe, the strong preference for dubbing grew out of nationalist concerns — preserving language meant preserving cultural identity. In these countries, entire industries developed around dubbing. Today, certain voice actors will specialize in playing specific American stars, to the point where audiences expect to hear their voice each time they go to see, say, a Tom Cruise movie.

Lip-synch dubbing, despite its ultimate benefits, can get very complicated. It’s not just that the lines may not translate directly — they also have to take just as long to say in both languages and approximate, to the best of their abilities, the lip movements of the original actors. That can pose an added challenge when translating from laconic languages like English into verbose languages like German. And Seinfeld was already a very wordy show, making accurate translation that much more critical.

Definitely worth reading in entirety if you’re a big fan of Seinfeld.

Germany Should Exit the Euro

Red Jahncke posits that it should be Germany, and not Greece, that should exit the euro. The stance is controversial, but here is his logic:

A Greek exit from the currency union would make the situation even worse. There is no mechanism to decide, or deal with, whichever nation might be next, and even that presumes that exits could be managed. The more terrifying prospect is that the other afflicted countries might exit in an uncontrollable panic, complete with bank runs, failures and general disarray. The accompanying repudiation of hundreds of billions of euros in debt would overstrain the European financial system, even Germany’s. The global economy would be paralyzed as everyone wondered which domino would be next to fall.

What, then, might a German exit do? With integration and multiple restructurings so unlikely and withdrawal of the weak members so fraught, it might actually be the best of all available options.

A single, powerful nation would have the best shot at executing a relatively swift exit that would be over before anyone could panic. No agonizing over who exits and who doesn’t. Stripped of its German export powerhouse, the euro would depreciate sharply, but would not become a virtually worthless currency, as, for example, any re-issued Greek drachma surely would. With the euro devalued, a Greek exit and devaluation would be relatively pointless. So, no contagion or bank runs. With new exchange rates making all the non-euro financial havens prohibitively expensive, and with the threat of forced conversion into devalued national currencies removed, depositors in southern Europe would lose their impetus to run.

Additionally,

Germany’s exit would provide immediate benefits to all the remaining euro-area nations. The currency depreciation would radically improve their trade competitiveness — exactly what many observers have said the weaker nations in the south need most. The euro area’s balance of payments would improve, providing sorely needed funds to service its external debt. The benefits would accrue to the euro area as a whole, as opposed to serial exits at the weak end of the spectrum, which would crush one weak nation after another, with each exit increasing pressure on the next candidate.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Germany: America of Yesteryear

This piece in The Los Angeles Times highlights how Germany of today is like America in the 1970s:

In 1975, manufacturing accounted for about 20% of the United States’ economic output, or gross domestic product, about the same as in Germany today. Since then, U.S. manufacturing’s share of GDP has slid to about 12%.

In 1975, the U.S. budget deficit was a manageable 1% of the economy, about the same as Germany’s now. Last year, the U.S. deficit was about 10%.

American families in the 1970s and early ’80s typically saved about 10% of their take-home pay, about the same as in Germany today. The U.S. savings rate these days is in the low single digits.

There story follows a couple in their 50s, the Krugers; the couple has two children. They have paid off their debts and are living much better on a combined $40,000 income than most Americans who earn twice as much.

Comparing French and Germany Identity

Francis Fukuyama writes how French and German identities differ:

French national identity is very much built around French language. I always found very impressive that Léopold Senghor, the Senegalese poet, was admitted to the Académie française back in the 1940’s, something that is indicative of the way French see their identity. If you spoke French and if you could write beautiful poetry in French that qualified you for the Académie française. Therefore, that republican sense of identity has underlined French citizenship.

The German case is very different. German national identity evolved very differently from France. Partly due to the fact that the Germans were scattered all over Central and Eastern Europe, the process of German unification required definition of Germanness in ethnic terms. So legally their citizenship law was based on the legal principle of jus sanguinis. You become a citizen not if you are born on German territory, but rather depending on whether you have a German mother. Up until the year 2000, if you were an ethnic German coming from Russia, you could get citizenship far more easily than if you were a 2nd or 3rd generation Turk that had grown up in Germany, spoke perfect German and did not speak Turkish at all. Germans have changed their practice but the cultural meaning of saying I am German is still very different from the cultural meaning of saying I am French. It has a connotation that is more deeply rooted in blood. This means that when Angela Merkel says that multiculturalism has failed in Germany, I think she is only half right. She would be quite wrong to describe that failure one-sidedly as an unwillingness of Muslim immigrants and their children to want to integrate into German society. Part of the failure of integration comes from the side of the German society as well.

I want to say that the majority of the world culture are similar to that of Germany, but I’m just speculating. I’m not certain if there is hard evidence for this question of defining identity.

Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia

One of my favourite Georgia getaways is Helen, Georgia. Less than two hours away from Atlanta, the city sits close to the Chattahoochee River and is home to the annual Oktoberfest. Why? The city is modeled after a small Bavarian town.

And while I’ve never made it to Helen during Oktoberfest, I enjoyed this profile of the city (published about two years ago).

On the declining economy of Helen:

The one sound the hills have not been alive with lately, though, is the music of cash registers. As tourism and construction falter everywhere in this straitened economy, Helen grapples with a $200,000 deficit in its general fund; rows of shuttered gingerbread storefronts that look as haunted and darkling as something out of Grimm’s fairytales; changing blue laws on alcohol sales that have realigned the area’s tippling privileges; and a police force—patrolling in cruisers labeled “Polizei”—that has a reputation for rounding up hapless revelers with all of the sweeping efficiency implicit in that German spelling.

And what’s an Oktoberfest without beer (bier)? But believe it or not, Helen used to be a dry town:

By 1977, liquor sales by the glass and bottle were legalized. Helen became the only soaking “wet” spot for the hard stuff, as well as beer and wine, in the northeast Georgia mountains. The rest of surrounding White County, including Cleveland, the county seat, remained staunchly dry.

Fun paragraph describing the city:

 So the city serves as a sort of geographic id for intensely vital Scots-Irish characters who are governed by the countervailing forces of the church and that ancient Celtic impulse to go wild, to kick ass, to self-destruct. Among the sepia-toned, old-timey costume photos displayed in the window of a souvenir photography studio are shots of an adorable baby—snuggling with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of a Confederate flag backdrop. Despite the cultural homogenization of recent years, that old Saturday night/Sunday morning dialectic of Southern life persists.

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(via @JustinHeckert, an Atlanta-based writer)