Foreign Language Only Signs?

Found an interesting article on Shanghaiist about the recent regulation to add Chinese signs to all stores, shops and restaurants in Xintiandi.

Xintiandi is a very unique place, where most of the shops and bars remains the same style as they were in their original country (many from U.S.) and it is a cultural showcase in the heart of Shanghai about the foreign cultures. One reflection about this is the names and signs of the stores. Many of them only have English names and only show English on their signs, like my favorite KABB. I don’t know whether they have a Chinese name.

The recent requirement is to put Chinese names on their store. I didn’t visit Xintiandi recently, but it is said all store complied with this regulation already. Hmmm.. This seems wired and the next time I am there, I will take pictures, and I am sure Xintiandi may look differently.

The other place very similar to Xintiandi is the Biyun International District. It is just an American Town in Shanghai.

How do I feel? Well. I have some concerns on this. I am afraid the consistency may overtake diversity in this city, and the government is trying to regulate everything, and may kill the energy of the new economic ecosystem. I love to see Chinese culture become more and more rich, however, it should base itself upon a very solid foundation – like more artist, more poetic, more great novelist, and more good Chinese restaurants and bars. By suppressing the other culture to make sure one culture is stronger is not the right way to do it.

How do you feel?

12 Comments

  1. Oh, does this sound familiar! Where I live there has been a small local “controversy” over the fact that some of the stores and businesses run by various newcomers to our area do not have English on the signs — only Chinese, or Korean, or Vietnamese, or whatever the language that those proprietors choose to advertise their business. Many people who have lived here a long time are horrified that “those people” (and please note my use of quotation marks to indicate that this is something other people have said, not me!) are “taking over” the area. As you know, my personal feeling is that the more we can “mix” internationally with each other’s cultures, the better off the world will be. Since I cannot read Chinese, maybe it’s a good idea for the sign at a Chinese bakery in Cupertino to have some words in English that I can see when I want to buy a good cake or pastry, but I don’t worry too much about it. I know that when the people who run that shop have been here long enough to learn good English themselves, they will probably display the words in English *and* Chinese with great and justifiable pride! Until then, I can just smile, point to the item I want, and try to make them understand that I am glad to have them in the neighborhood.

  2. I think it’s a GREAT idea to have Chinese signs as well. We’re in China, after all!

    For example, in Japan there are also lots of “authentic” Irish pubs, American bars, etc etc, but because many Japanese people do not read English, it makes practical sense and so it’s common to display menus, signs, in both languages. Same principle, in NY or London the Chinese restaurants (in both Chinatowns and downtown areas) will have menus in both languages usually.

    Also, as a matter of business – does Xintiandi wants ALL its customers to be foreigners or Chinese who read English? Why exclude the majority of the local population? Customers are customers because they pay for products/ services. Language ability and nationality definitely isn’t important at all. The shop/ restaurant has to satisfy the customer, not the other way round.

    Well, if I go to an Italian or Mexican restaurant I would surely appreciate the business owner’s effort in describing some particular items on the menus. If not knowing Italian gets in the way of understanding what I’m eating (ie paying for), then there are tons of other choices out there. The customer is king.

    Anyways, truth be told, these “authentic” places will never be totally real, they’re recreations. Cultural exchange works both ways. So excluding anyone on something of language ability is simply ridiculous, a big NO-NO!

  3. Yeah I agree with Caroll and Karen. Afterall, these *American (+++ other national ) companies/ businesses are in China and should respect the local population by putting up signs the locals can read. I wouldn’t like to have foreigners coming to my country, set up businesses and put up signs that no one but themselves can read. Diversity is one thing, respecting others is another. There has to be a bridge somehow and language is that bridge.

    PS: I support the idea of putting up signs in Chinese but that doesn’t mean changing the name altogether into Chinese. Take for instance “Starbucks”. I think it is appropriate for Starbucks to remain being called Starbucks and not “Sing-Ba-Ke”. They could put up a sign specifying it’s a cafe in Chinese and have Chinese translation for the menu.

  4. I think many people, foreigners and locals alike, are going to Xintiandi to get the taste of its unique atmosphere, which is neither truly historical, nor similar to what the center of NYC or Boston might look like. If it will be not appropriate to put big English signs on historic Buddhist temples, it makes sense to question whether it is appropriate to put big Chinese sigs on a place with its own established look.

    > “I wouldn’t like to have foreigners coming to my country, set up businesses and put up signs that no one but themselves can read”

    Well, that may be the reason why some people were not fond of Chinatowns in American cities, where you might be able to find the whole street in Chinese. And now, many people are against Mexican immigration for reasons roughly in the same direction. Again, these days people in America think differently (most oppose only the part of immigration that is illegal).

    Does ‘cannot read’ apply to our situation at all – isn’t there an obligatory English in the schools and the obligatory knowledge of pinyin? Also, many ‘locals’ who live in the area for years, are, in fact, foreigners or overseas Chinese. I would think that all restaurants at Xintiandi had Chinese language in the menu – correct me if I’m wrong – so the customer’s already the king.

    Thus the decision looks regrettably political. I understand that many Chinese people are proud to administer the places that were once administered by (often unjust!) foreign administration. But look, I bet none of foreign tourists going to Xintiandi is against that. Also, most of people come here because of some fondness to China, and so would be happy to learn or advance Chinese culture.

    I must plead guilty to be foreigner, even though the regulation will benefit my language learning process, where I often take the bus just to get involved into deciphering real-life bus stop signs.

  5. But – the best part!!

    Do you think Starbucks’ espresso, macchiatto, latte, short, tall and grande are standard English?

    I’ve seen signs in American coffee shops: ‘We are local. We don’t speak Starbucks’

  6. Starbucks is just an example that i used. I don’t frequent it and I don’t like it either.

  7. Well, I went to Xintiandi this evening. All menus and information, including information booth with the list of shops, are bilingual. As for the big neon labels, the ones that have some meaning, like ‘Coffee Bean’ or ‘Rendez-vouz’, have a few charactes in the title. For most others, like Starbucks, I wasn’t able to spot any Chinese. This doesn’t seem to hurt anyone since if you never seen ‘Starbucks’, then you won’t be helped much by knowing it’s a ‘Sin-ba-ke’. I guess that’s something along the lines of original regulation.

    So, it just looks like the whole thing isn’t a ground-breaking news.

    If anyone wants to re-check by yorself, you can also catch the performances in Xintiani on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8pm this month. Saturdays are Chinese Opera.

    This site was diplaying ‘You have exceeded your CPU quota’ when I tried to post just now.

  8. It is not a big deal. To make a big deal out of it shows the insecurity, unconfidence and sometimes arrogance someone feels towards his/her own culture and identity.

  9. I hadn’t really thought about this much before… interesting topic though. For everyone’s information, there are parts of Melbourne in Australia with very large Chinese communities, and many of the shops and restaurants in these locales only have Chinese signs and no English. This goes for many other Eurpoean nationalities and locales in Melbourne as well. I’ve never had a problem with it. Like I said, I’d never really thought about it before, because it’s been this way for so many years….

  10. @AussiePB, I also think it is not a big deal. If someone makes a small thing a big deal, there is a problem here.

  11. I think when we move to a new country, it is our duty to try and adapt to the new surroundings in a way that is comfortable to the locals. It shows respect and consideration to the culture. I don’t think sticking out will help foster understanding. As such, I feel that public signage should give size priorty to the local language. I don’t think Chinatowns should have only Chinese signs. It alienates us.

    In the same way, signs in China should have Chinese in bigger fonts followed by English or whatever other language. I am sure many would appreciate it.

  12. Not sure requiring bi-lingual sign in XinTianDi is somehow killing diversity… I do not have too many issues with having chinese in signs in China.. although I do not have issues with English been more prominent than the chinese for foreign joints such as StarBucks either.. just like many of the chinese business in Sydney or Melbourne, where Chinese sign are much more prominent than the English.. not sure how does having bilingual signage somehow damages or kills diversity in Shanghai?

    As for the reason that Chinese signs are not required because many of the local residents are english literate.. but what about the millions of chinese tourist that go to there who are not?? are these tourist somehow not the customers?

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