牛仔是印第安人吗? / Were Cowboys Indians?



文化差异让人困惑 / Culture is confusing

牛仔是印第安人吗?

在20世纪70年代,从中国到其他国家旅行的人大多是各领域里挑选出来的专家,而且通常组团旅行。近年火爆的个人出境游在当时仍是一个对遥远未来的期望。

无论医生、学者、工程师、科学家,还是政府官员,各种访问团都要由目的国的一家对口单位出面接待,接待方还要负责当地的部分或全部活动及日程的安排。

接待单位要面临一系列令人生畏的难题,在带国外代表团来华时,中方主办单位也会面临同样的问题。

住宿、餐饮、当地交通、文化娱乐活动,以及万一有人生病时如何就医等预备措施——诸如此类的问题需要仔细的规划和协调。

在那个没有互联网和传真机的年代,国际通讯还是电传和电报的天下。当然,长途电话也是一个选择,但价格十分昂贵,而且话筒另一边的声音听起来总像是从一个遥远星球的回音室里传来的。

再有就是永远存在的严重语言障碍。好的译员,尤其是精通英语和汉语的译员很少见。具备特殊专业——比如医药、石油、建筑——的语言表达能力的译员更少。

因此,解决语言问题的通常做法就是本着妥协的精神,最大限度地凑合,同时提醒讲话者和听众尽可能地放慢速度,提问题并保持耐性。

虽然翻译出洋相已是司空见惯,但更常见、有时甚至更糟糕的情况是在翻译能帮上大忙的场合却没有翻译。

当时,几乎所有的会议和谈判都有译员在场,不管他们的人数是否足够或是水平能否胜任。

但是,文娱活动怎么办呢?这可是要把中方代表硬生生地塞到完全陌生的环境中去啊!虽然部分文娱活动的背景资料已经包含在出发之前的简介材料中,但这些资料可能不太完整,而且还有些肤浅。

典型的例子是一个早期的中国油田代表团出访美国,包括得克萨斯州和俄克拉荷马州。在俄州的塔尔萨,他们被带去参观吉尔克里斯特博物馆(Gilchrist Museum),那里主要收藏的是描绘美国西部荒蛮时代的美术作品,其中包括大量的由弗雷德里克•雷明顿(Frederick Remington)创作的美国牛仔和美洲土著印地安人的雕塑。

可就在那一天,由于行程安排突然出现了问题,代表团的博物馆之行不得不走马观花,因此也就没有时间用中文把相关的美国历史背景知识介绍给他们。

可以理解,代表们离开时都对博物馆留下了深刻的印象,但多少有点儿困惑。

后来,其中一位团员向陪同人员中会讲中文的美国年轻女士问道:“我想请教一个问题,那时的牛仔都是印第安人吗?”

毫无疑问,很多西方人在参观完中国的博物馆或是文化古迹时,也会出于同样的困惑提出类似的问题。

对于熟悉美国历史的人来说,那位中国参观者的问题有点可笑,就好比一个西方人问中国人:“满族人是汉族人吗?”

教训是:参观别国的历史和文化景点时,要带上一个好的双语导游。

Were Cowboys Indians?

Travelers from China to other countries in the 1970s were mostly hand-picked specialists of one sort or another, and traveled mostly as groups of delegates. Outbound individual tourism – booming in recent years — was still a prospect for the distant future at that time.

Whether doctors, academics, engineers, scientists, or officials, these groups would invariably be hosted by a counterpart organization in the destination country. The host organization would arrange part or all of the local agenda and itinerary.

These host organizations faced an array of daunting challenges, just as Chinese host organizations did when bringing groups of foreigners to China.

Accomodation, food and beverage, local transportation, cultural and entertainment activities, back-up arrangements like medical care in case someone got sick – these and other issues needed careful planning and liaison.

The liaison process was a lot more cumbersome in that pre-internet, pre-fax era when telex and telegram remained king and queen of international communications. Long distance telephony was also an option, but costs were very high and it often sounded as if the other party was speaking from inside some kind of echo chamber on a distant planet.

And then there was the invariable high hurdle of language. Good interpreters, especially those well-versed in English and Chinese, were scarce. If they needed linguistic competence in a specialized field such as medicine, petroleum, or construction, they were scarcer still.

So the usual solution to the language issue was to make the best of it in a spirit of compromise, while reminding speakers and listeners alike to go as slowly as possible, ask questions, and be patient.

Translation bloopers were commonplace, but even more common and sometimes more devastating was the absence of translation in places where it would have been very helpful.

There were almost always translators present in meetings and negotiations, whether or not they were numerous enough or fully qualified.

But what about the cultural and entertainment activities which plunged Chinese delegates into very unfamiliar environments? Background information on some of these was included in pre-trip briefing materials, but this was probably incomplete and somewhat superficial.

One classic example arose when an early delegation from China’s oil patch visited the U.S., including Texas and Oklahoma. In Tulsa, Oklahoma they were taken to the Gilchrist Museum featuring a premier collection of fine art depicting America’s wild west era, including a large collection of Frederick Remington sculptures of the American cowboy as well as the native Americans, or Indians.

On that particular day the group’s museum tour had to be rushed due to some last-minute scheduling problems. Thus there was no time for the explanation of the relevant context of American history to be rendered to the group in Chinese.

Understandably the group left the museum impressed but somewhat confused.

One of them later approached a young Chinese-speaking American woman accompanying their group and asked: “Let me clarify one thing please. Were cowboys Indians?”

No doubt many Westerners have left Chinese museum or cultural site tours asking questions out of equal bafflement.

The Chinese visitor’s question sounds quite ridiculous to someone familiar with American history, just as a westerner asking a Chinese person: “Were Manchus Han? ” would.

Moral: when visiting historical and cultural sites in countries other than your own, make sure to have a good bi-lingual guide with you.


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