Yesterday I heard an intriguing and amusing story on This American Life about the multiple names and nick-names used by native Chinese speakers for NYC streets, all informed by cultural and linguistic know-how. My favorite bit was how Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge is known by the dispatchers and customers to be “the Japanese Guy Bridge” – because its numerous vowels and consonants are suggestive to them of a Japanese name.
The dispatchers – and their clients – are taking ownership of the geography in order to make it work for them. I crack up trying to imagine how I would relish this same help when I’m spending time in places where I’m completely lost in the language. In Vietnam, Jordan, and China, I did my best to memorize the letters and shapes of words to help me find the (correct) bathroom. These ad hoc strategies and solutions that people create on a larger scale are fascinating.
The story is only 6 minutes. Listen for yourself and enjoy.