Monday, 28 May 2007

Finland - Xylitol, hyvä, hyvä!

Last summer I was fortunate to have the unique opportunity to participate in a one-month ASEM-DUO teacher exchange in South Korea. In my eyes, there were still surprisingly few foreign-looking people there, even in the capital Seoul. Like Finland, South Korea has long been a very homogeneous, and proudly patriotic nation.

When anyone heard that I came from Finland, invariably their first excited words were: “Aah, Finland! Xylitol - hiva hiva!” - or something to that effect - accompanied by some strange hand and arm movements. Not having the foggiest idea what they were getting at I felt not only totally baffled, but also utterly stupid. I gathered that the “hiva, hiva” part would probably be the Finnish “hyvä, hyvä” (’good, good’). Somebody even asked me if I could show them the Finnish dance that went like that. ???DANCE??? I was even more clueless until it was explained to me that there had been a TV commercial advertising xylitol gum containing these lines and movements. Aah, I said, wondering what the commercial was really like.

On return home YouTube finally filled me in. Lol!
The green costume, the hopping goblin with his dance routines and the music have no relation to Finland whatsoever. But in Korea, it’s the only image of our country that many people have ever seen. Good stuff to use in English classes to introduce students to the dangers of simple stereotyping and the importance of media literacy


Anonymous said...

Good point! I came to your blog through article that mentioned your experience. Btw, I'm Korean. :)

Anonymous said...

Nevermind. The commercial what you saw is no more shown on TV.

Anonymous said...

I'm Korean, too. :)

Es said...

HAHA! I totally understand how you felt when that guy was dancing in front of you - that's silly, absolutely.

I've been to the U.K., Denmark, Germany, Swiss, Ireland(Rep. of), and Czech, and now I'm in the U.S.

When I met a nice and beautiful English lady saying 'Nihao' which means 'How are you' in Chinese, or saw Paris Hilton put her hands together in a famous Korean TV show (well, I guess most Korean people you meet may know that show 'Infinite Challenge') just like Vietnamese or Thai do, while only 12% of Korean which are Buddhists do, or heard one American rock band said 'A-Ri-Ka-To' to a thousands of Korean audience, which is 'Thank you' in Japanese, saw a TV anchor talking about Beijing Olympic Games mentioned "North Korean has got 7 gold medals," ......

then, I'd say, I feel embarrassed as you did. Well, not as much as you did because it's quite common, silly, or funny happenings in this not-so-much-as-expected 'small' world.

We, people in many developed or similar countries, tend to think we know much of this world, and it's totally wrong.

I've seen many Koreans were saying 'Hello' to French, German, and Mexican people as many times as European or American people said 'Nihao' or 'Arikato' to me.

It's just a funny thing, but seriously we still need to know each other. Long way to go, people.

etgeneral said...

I'm a Korean, and I'm teaching English in a secondary school.

Sometimes my students just believe in all the Hollywood films, not my explanation. :)

sinikka said...

Hi all of you from Korea who have commented here! Thank you for your comments!! So interesting that you found your way to my blog!
Two years ago I spent a month in Korea and I really loved your country and culture!

Anonymous said...

Lol, I can understand what you went through :D But I have to say even after over 2 years, not much has changed, the Finland's image inside Koreans' head. I enjoyed the read. Thanks.