Intercultural Communication for
It has become a truism that in today’s globalised world commodified cultural and linguistic symbols and imagery rapidly circulate around the globe and turn up in unexpected places (Appadurai 1996; Hannerz 1996). For example, in September 2010 I visited Hakone, a small tourist town about 100km west of Tokyo. Expecting an ‘authentic’ Japanese experience after having visited global Tokyo, I was more than a little surprised when I found that Hakone station was dominated by Swiss imagery. There was a large billboard of Swiss Tourism with an image of Disentis/Mustér, a small Swiss town in the canton of Graubünden. The billboard was as much a celebration of the fact that the Hakone Tozan Railway is a sister railway of the Rhaetian Railway operating in Graubünden as it was an invitation to visit Switzerland. Even the umlaut in the original German spelling of ‘Rhätische Bahn’ was there–as was the abundant use of the national colour red, the Swiss Tourism emblem which has the Swiss Cross at the heart of an edelweiss, the national flower, and the current Swiss Tourism slogan, ‘Get natural’. In close proximity to the billboard, there was the Cafe St. Moritz, named after another famous resort town in Graubünden. The Cafe St. Moritz, too, was liberally displaying the Swiss flag, including on table tops designed in the shape of the Swiss cross in a circle (see Piller (2010b) for images).
In this example Swiss symbols and the tokenistic use of the German language reference one tourist space (Hakone) to another (Graubünden/ Switzerland) and they associate a modest train-station food outlet with the glitz and glamour of St Moritz. Advertising takes cultural and linguistic symbols and images from one place and uses them in another to create authenticity, to reference an original, and to transfer the positive associations of a cultural or linguistic stereotype onto a product.