The subtleties of a Will Ferrell movie, and other observations from the in-flight entertainment on a Chinese airline

My flights to and from Beijing were on Hainan Airlines, a Chinese airline. One consequence of this is that Mandarin Chinese is the primary language of communication; English is a distant second. It also means that the in-flight movies are subtitled in Chinese, so if you can't read Chinese, you are restricted to movies in languages you understand.

I wasn't interested in the English-language movies, although I did watch a little bit of "The Other Guys", a Will Ferrell vehicle. In one scene, Ferrell's character and his friend have dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Ferrell's character says to the waiter, "謝謝" which means "Thank you" in Mandarin. The waiter responds, "唔該" which means (in this context) "You're welcome" in Cantonese.¹

Part of my brain wondered if this language mismatch was some sort of subtle commentary about the nature of Will Ferrell's character, that he's perhaps a bit of a poseur, or that he's out of place and doesn't realize it?

And part of my brain couldn't believe that the other part of my brain used "subtle" and "Will Ferrell" in the same sentence.

Anyway, the only other language I knew that was offered by the in-flight entertainment system was German. So I watched Willi und die Wunder dieser Welt, a movie-length version of the German children's television show Willi wills wissen. And watching the movie reminded me that Germans are obsessed with poop. During the course of the movie, you see a flying fox pooping, you see a polar bear pooping, and you investigate a Japanese toilet. I didn't stick around for the whole movie, but I wouldn't be surprised if you also saw a scorpion pooping in the final segment.

(In the Canadian segment, somebody talks with Willi in heavily Canadian-accented German which was apparently learned phonetically. I could barely understand him. It reminded me of my high school German class and the students who couldn't shake their thick American accents.)


¹There are several phrases that roughly mean "Thank you" in Cantonese. The two primary ones are the aforementioned "唔該" and "多謝", and the rules governing proper use of each one are complicated.

Comments (20)
  1. Christoph Daniel says:

    If I may jump in to defend Germany here for a second… We are most definitely not obsessed with poop. Just saying. ;)

    Still, you say the movie "reminded" you of that. What were your first clues?

    [The toilets (hence the link). -Raymond]
  2. sumdumgai says:

    As a native Cantonese speaker, I must say that 唔該 is the only "thank you" we use. We rarely use 多謝.

    Literally, 唔 means "no", 該 means "should". The who phrase means "you shouldn't have".

    The grammar of Chinese is perhaps the easiest one. There is no tense, no irregular verb, no case, no gender, no nothing.

    By the way. You might wonder why the capital of China is named "Peking" and "Beijing". "Peking" is Cantonese and "Beijing" is Mandarin. Mandarin (the language Raymond speaks) is indeed ancient China invader's language.

    (Sorry Raymond. )

    The original Chinese language was Sun Yat-Sen's mother tongue , the southern  chinese dialects.

    [For the record, I don't spea Mandarin to any appreciable extent. And Chinese does have grammar. You just don't realize it as a native speaker because you don't say "Oh, that's a point of grammar"; you say "Well duh of course that's how you say it." -Raymond]
  3. Frank Cheng says:

    In Cantonese, "you are welcome" is supposed to be "唔洗唔該" (no need to say thanks) instead of "唔該" (thanks).

  4. David says:

    And so the "Cantonese ain't Chinese" shitstorm begins… :P

  5. DWalker says:

    @David: Personally, I don't like Will Ferrell movies, or anything with Steve Carrell (I don't like the mysteriously popular American version of the TV show "The Office"), nor do I like most movies with Jim Carrey.  I like most humor, but these three don't do it for me… and I am as American as anyone (I claim).  Maybe it's all of those double R's in their last names…

  6. are Will Ferrell movies considered funny or lame by the fellow blog readers?

    Funny.  Not as funny as Steve Carell, but certainly worth watching.

  7. Bob says:

    I did like Will Ferrell's "Stranger Than Fiction". Any movie where the man brings his date a basket of flours…

  8. James Schend says:

    I'm a freak I guess, but I thought Evan Almighty was better than the first movie (Bruce Almighty.) I dunno, I really got into it.

    Never been a huge Will Ferrell fan, but Anchorman and his Nascar movie (whose title I can't remember right now) have moments.

  9. R. Bemrose says:

    @James Schend:

    The NASCAR movie is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

  10. David says:

    So, you can consider this research: are Will Ferrell movies considered funny or lame by the fellow blog readers?

    After hearing a lot of good things from American friends about how 'funny' Will Ferrell movies were I tried, repeatedly, and fail, *painfully repeatedly*, to find the fun in them. The closest to 'funny' was Anchorman, and even that was below most Steve Carrell movies (and thick strata below actually funny stuff).

    Please, tell me if I'm being a terrible American or what!

  11. Gabe says:

    David: As an American, I can assure you that I do not find Will Ferrell movies funny. That said, movies where he plays a small part (ideally uncredited) may be found funny. The same goes for Steve Carrell, although I still haven't figured out if Evan Almighty was actually *supposed* to be funny and wasn't or it just wasn't intended to be funny. As an example, even though they're *both* in Melinda and Melinda, they aren't main characters, so don't let their presence stop you from watching it.

  12. Eric says:

    Will Ferrell can be *hilarious* when competently directed (see "Stranger than Fiction"), but most of his movies are rather lazy and unfunny.  

  13. Cheong says:

    @sumdumgai: I disagree with you. Both pharse are used commonly here.

    The simple rule for usage is like this: And you say "唔該" if you want to thank others for do you a favour. For example, it's what you say when someone hand you table salt bottle. And when someone give way for you when you're in hurry. Consider it's the word to say when your "Thank you" is related to the word "Please".

    You say "多謝" if you want to say "Thank you" for accepting something. For example, when you receive a present or get your red envelope. The second usage is when others grant you a favour, so there's pharse "多謝合作" (Thank you for you cooperation (in advance)). Just consider it's the word to say when your "Thank you" is not related to the word "Please" – i.e. when you expect you'll get the item/favour even if you don't ask.

  14. EbbeK says:

    @Christoph Daniel

    "Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat". For the rest of you, this is a German children's book. Poop plays a very important role in it.

  15. omnibrain says:

    German toilets: Just put a sheet of paper on the horizontal shelf. And everything disappears with the first flush.

    Der Maulwurf (mole):

  16. Florian K. says:

    Just for the record, I haven't seen the so-called German toilet for at least twenty years now. It's true that they used to be here in the eighties, but then, there were also some rather strange hair cuts back then. And just as the hair cuts, you may see one of the old toilets at rare occasions.

    @EbbeK: I can assure you that no children's book I've seen in the last few years (two nephews here) deals with poop. On the other hand, reading the reviews for the one you mentioned, it seems that children really love it…

  17. Joren says:

    The purpose of a German toilet is to eliminate splash, and it does so perfectly.

    A good one will have a small layer of water on the shelf as well. Not enough to cause a splash, but enough to ensure flushing once is enough.

  18. Kevin Eshbach says:

    That "Willi und die Wunder dieser Welt" segment with the japanese toilet reminds me of the MTV show Jackass.  Now they just need to take that host and strap him into a porta potty full of poo and bungee jump it ala Jackass 3D.

  19. vcsjones says:

    Belarus uses the same toilet style. So much so that every time I go there and use the toilet I feel that I am going to end up sitting in my own poop.

  20. L says:

    Reading this "And watching the movie reminded me that Germans are obsessed with poop." made me first think that you are referring to the word that we Germans are saying all the time: Scheiße! Its used much the same as the f-word, but means poop.

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