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Cultural Differences and Problem Solving: An Interview with Jerome Vadon

Cultural Differences and Problem Solving: An Interview with Jerome Vadon
You may have seen this amazing graphic going viral in the past couple of days. How did such a simple and funny representation of stereotype become viral so quickly? To find out more, we interviewed it’s creator – Jerome Vadon.

:: How did you come to think about the “joke” for each country?

J.V: Almost 2 years ago I posted my first language-based joke (see it here). It was a simple one and it got very popular too (way less than the last one, but still good for a first).

Later I made a fast sketch to a American friend of mine, “quick and dirty”, on “problem resolution – international techniques”, making fun of the different solutions between US, German, English and French ways of facing the same problem (it was during the crisis). Somehow this sketch ended up on the internet, and slowly became a Meme, as people modified and posted their own version of the initial four countries by adding a fifth of their own. This first sketch never intended to be published. I didn’t put a signature but I knew it was from me… That bugged me for months, then it came back again to me, through Facebook and Twitter on the same day.

That was more than I was about to handle. This is how I decided to make it cleaner: the version 1. A few days after, as the sharing started to grow, I thought it was stupid to not go further and have my Facebook friends laugh all together. Then ideas started to pop into my mind… I made an update, the version 2 and then... more than 20000 shares (Facebook & Twitter).

As I am quite busy, I did not really gave time to seriously make it. So I decided to take a weekend and to make it more serious. And this Sunday I released version 3. Only 72 hours after the post, V3 is has over 300,000 shares via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and all other networks...
Although this is very good for the Ego, it’s more than that, I am so happy to have been able to make people laugh from all around the world, somehow together... I just love the idea!

:: What do you think these “stereotypes” about other cultures say about them AND us?

J.V: Stereotypes are wonderful tools: they ease tension between nations, make defaults funny and help us face some of our most characteristic traits. They give us a fair chance to evolve, without getting angry at anyone. They say that we are just like kids - teasing and laughing gently about each other. Nobody is perfect. And it’s probably better this way?

But they also can be a deadly weapon of misleading communication. History is sadly full of examples, and we don’t have to look very far… WWII, South Africa, Serbia. Most ethnic conflicts are based on stereotypes, manipulated in an evil design.

As in real life, it depends in which hands the tool is.

In the case of stereotypes, humour is necessary, so that everyone, wherever they come from and wherever they are understands well the message "just for fun".

:: Do you think stereotypes are useful in any way?

J.V: As soon as they are not intended to be bad or to hurt someone deliberately. Humour is always a good way for auto-critics and send “polite” message to others.

Stereotypes are an opportunity for everyone to raise the question: am I really like that?

For example, I became fully aware of foreigner's views about the French when I settled in Iceland. Most of my friends (not French) were always making jokes about French, their arrogant way or about their abilities to complain.

I've never really thought of myself as "pure" French (which I am) and I have many times taken my distances with the behaviour of my fellow countrymen, as there is no excuse to act such a way. Then I asked myself "Am I really grumpy?" And even though I'm probably less so than the average French or most of my French friends, I discovered that I was much more than my friends in other countries! So, in this case (as often) it was true!

I just have to find a way to work on my unsuspected arrogant side, and then I will be the most perfect man in the universe, and humility will be one of my greatest qualities…

:: So are you looking to add more countries?

J.V: Yes. I am actually fighting to find free time to finish and release the next V4, and already have ideas for a V5. Maybe a Christmas one. As I usually like to say “shortest jokes are usually… the less long” (that sounds much better in French actually!). Seriously I got several thousand of messages, comments and ideas. So far, they are all very political, and miss the “funny” points. If stereotypes have to be more or less accurate, they have to be funny somehow and not badly intended. I have, since V3, excellent ones for Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. I am still thinking about the pros and cons.  Eventually I will try to make all countries, with time. Though, there is some ideas are very good, and I will probably use them to update some of the actual countries, but again, people does not see often the complexity of this joke:

- It has to be funny.
- It has to be accurate (more or less) and understandable by anyone, all around the world, despite culture and background.
- It can be acid (or black humour), but it cannot be badly intended. I am not here to judge or take position for anyone (that’s a fine line). There is always a “recto” to any “verso”… I am not one to impose to others my point of view. That said, I want to keep my freedom and ultimately, publish what I think is funny and right.

:: Can people get involved?

J.V: Sure. That why I have invited people (since V2) to send me comments, feedback, inputs and ideas. But I never promised to anyone that I will use their ideas (which would be impossible as most of them are contradictory…). But I did patent the “concept” with an international company, based in Swiss, in order to allow me to bring the project to another level, sort of worldwide crowd sourced jokes. I will keep you update on this very fresh project in my mind…

Thank you Jerome for taking the time to speak to us.

And we also wanted to share what you also told us earlier, that “laugh (with love maybe) is the common point between all people, from all around the world, regardless of their origin, skin colour, nation, religion, culture and even age. I am not talking about sense of humour, which is deeply related to the previous list. Just the simple joy of laughing”.
 
We look forward to your next versions!

Follow Jerome: @jeromevadon

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