Google it: Why do Italians, Americans and Brazilians…

Answering the "Why?" question (Screengrab)

The Google search bar tells us what Russians are asking about people around the world

By Catherine Barney & Fann Sim

Ah, Google! The answer to all seemingly awkward and strange questions. The search bar can be an insight into the mind of the user. Why do Italians not get fat from eating pasta? Why Singapore banana lemon? Just… why?

In the first part of our “Google it” series, we answer popular questions on Google from Russians users about Singapore, Iran, Italy, India, Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil, the USA, Kazakhstan, and the Netherlands.

We had our contributors help answer these questions for Russian speakers who need answers to their Google searches.

Singapore: Fann Sim
почему сингапур бананово лимонный? Why Singapore banana lemon?

I’ve never heard of anyone using “banana-lemony” goodness to describe Singapore since we don’t have widespread banana nor lemon plantations. Haha!

I did, however, poke around and found out why Russians searched for “Singapore banana lemon”

So the term came about because of a song from Russian Soviet singer Alexander Vertinsky almost a hundred years ago in the 20s. In Tango Magnolia, the song starts with a very tropical “In banana-lemon Singapore, in the storm, when ocean sings and cries at one and chases in dazzling azure.”

Not too far off the tiny island in Southeast Asia!

Iran: Shima Vezvaei
почему иранцы не носят галстуки? Why don’t Iranians wear neckties?

I remember when I was a kid, nobody in the state TV was allowed to wear neckties unless it was a historical movie and they were the bad characters who were rich, drank alcohol, etc.

But nowadays, it’s just a political statement for Iranian officials and politicians. They say “it represents western culture and we must stand to our own culture,” but people wear neckties all the time for official parties, weddings or some private company events.

(Photo credit: Kremlin)
(Photo credit: Kremlin)

After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the idea of independence became a sort of ideology with one of the main slogans being “no to west, no to east, yes to Islamic Republic of Iran!”

There are different perceptions, too. Like this weird idea that a necktie represents a Christian cross. During the 10 years after the revolution, religious fundamentals stopped wearing ties and they forced others to do the same. It became a cultural norm, like a separation between moderates, non-religious and religious people.

Italy: Maria Michela D’Alessandro
почему итальянцы не толстеют от макарон? Why don’t Italians get fat when they eat pasta?

Italians don’t get fat from eating pasta because it’s not a fatty food. This is just a stereotype. Also, we only use simple ingredients in our pasta. Lastly, macaroni in Italy doesn’t exist, we have MACCHERONI, and it is a different shape from “macaroni”.

India: Samrat Sil
почему индусы не целуются? Why don’t Indians kiss?

Firstly, Indians DO kiss. They just don’t kiss in public spaces or in the open. There are a lot of reasons for it. According to traditions, a girl is supposed to be the goddess and upholder of honour for her family. If she indulges in public kissing, that may bring shame to her family.

Secondly, having a colonial past, Indians selectively adopted some traits of European society. Unfortunately, kissing in open wasn’t one of them. People argue that those are a part of western culture which is distinctive from Indian culture and should not be promoted.

As you would guess, most of these notions saw stiff opposition from modern-day Generation Y and feminists. The counter-argument is that a kiss is someone’s choice and he or she is entitled to it. Furthermore, they also say that it’s regressive. Sometimes people use public kissing as a way of protest against orthodox views.

India is kinda stuck in between these narratives. It is extremely rare to find a couple kissing in public. People in relationships kiss in private or in secluded places away from public eye.

Hong Kong: Veronica Cheung
почему в гонконге ходят в масках? Why wear masks in Hong Kong?

When you are sick, wearing a surgical face mask is a basic etiquette for many Hong Kongers nowadays. After the outbreak of SARS in 2003, we learnt the lesson that spreading germs in public could cause social panic.

But in some cases, maybe there’s a celebrity walking by and he or she is just trying to be low key in public.

Germany: Till Rimmele
почему немецкий а не германский? Why nemeski and not germankski?

Historically, German is the umbrella term for people living beyond the Roman Limes. It was coined by Tacitus in the work Germania and most likely derives from a now lost tribe.

Many of the names Germans were assigned in foreign languages has to do with the tribe or the role they played in their culture. For example, the Alemanni repeatedly looted Rome and abducted the emperor, hence why more Latin-influenced languages refer to Germans as Allemand. As for the Russians, the myth goes like this: Peter the Great brought in German experts to help the Russian nation. Since they could neither understand Russian nor speak the Russian language, Russian peasants referred to them as ne moy or people who are deaf and dumb.

Brazil: Priscilla Castro
почему бразильцы говорят на португальском? Why do Brazilians speak Portuguese?

It is usual for Brazilians living abroad to be questioned on why they speak Portuguese instead of Spanish. In some countries, like the US and Canada, there are still those who greet us in Spanish when they learn they are dealing with a Latino.

Unlike most of South and Central Americas, Brazil was first reached in the year 1500 by Portuguese navigators who left Portugal in search of a route to India. Hence, the language taught to the native people who lived there was Portuguese. This virtually exterminated the indigenous dialects from most of the country.

USA: Catherine Barney
почему американцы не снимают обувь дома? Why don’t Americans take off their shoes at home?

I think most Americans would say “You can’t assume that all Americans don’t take off their shoes!” But come on, if people are searching for it, it somehow applies on a broader scale.

Where I’m from in Idaho, my family definitely left their shoes on in the house. I only realised later when I moved to Germany that it was a cultural oddity. My family came to visit me and I was appalled that everyone kept their shoes on in my apartment after we had been romping through the city all day. Gross!

It's common to see shoes at home in sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Friends and Seinfeld. (Screenshot)
It’s common to see shoes at home in sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Friends and Seinfeld. (Screengrab)

I think leaving your shoes on comes from having an active lifestyle. I picture my dad BBQ-ing for a family event or preparing our camping trailer for a weekend trip and running in and out of the house with his shoes on. It doesn’t make sense to take them off every time.

Kazakhstan: Diana Baidauletova
почему казахи не едят свинину? Why don’t Kazakhs eat pork?

The majority of Kazakhstan follows Islam and if you’re Muslim, you don’t eat pork. However, Islam is mild in Kazakhstan, so no one is going to judge you for a little tasty slice of Russian or Ukrainian salo.

In Islam, pigs are considered unclean animals. First and foremost, Kazakhstan is a secular state, but majority of Kazakhs respect and are accustomed to not serving or preparing pork on a daily basis.

Also, it probably has something to do with cattle and animals that Kazakhs used to have. Traditionally, the most acceptable and noble meat to eat is horse meat as it’s believed to be the cleanest and healthiest. Sheep is also fine for Islam, as we know because of Kurban Bayram traditions.

The Netherlands: Francesca Visser
почему голландцы не занавешивают окна? Why do the Dutch not have curtains on their windows?

My grandmother would say “it is for people to show the world their perfect housekeeping” my dad on the other hand, calls it a form of “national claustrophobia”.

(Photo credit: Francesca Visser)
(Photo credit: Francesca Visser)

The reality is that curtains in the Netherlands are highly dysfunctional. The Dutch climate offers only a couple of hours of light a day and the traditional big windows are an attempt to remedy the lack of it. Not having curtains offers a perfect solution and a cheap alternative to a TV or the cinema. And the Dutch like cheap.

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