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Around the World in 24 Hours

by Marcie Kligman

I was doing some art homework the other day when I came to the question:

6) What does the term "fijnmaler" refer to in Dutch?

Hmmmm, I thought, I can't find this in any of the reading. Maybe someone on the mud will know.
The internet as it is today

Map of population centers on the internet.

So I logged on to my favorite mud and chatted, "Does anyone speak Dutch?" Immediately someone told me, "I do." I asked him, "What does fijnmaler mean in Dutch?" "Finely ground," he told me. "Thanks," I replied, and logged off, finishing my homework. Time taken to answer that question: less than sixty seconds.

This wasn't the first time the amazing power of the Internet to create a truly international community affected me. Over my two-year experience with Mudding and newsgroups, I've talked with a South African about how apartheid affected his childhood, an Israeli about to serve her mandatory time in the military, a Scot about kilts, and with countless citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Israel, Sweden, and Americans from all over the United States. I have long since stopped finding it strange to hold a four-way conversation between an American, a Brit, an Australian, and a German.

The only requirement for these kinds of conversations is that all the participants know at least a little of the same language. I've been alternately amazed and amused by how foreigners speak English; sometimes a truly great faux pas appears by an unknowing English amateur, and sometimes native English speakers mangle their language far worse than the foreigners. As an American, I've also been repeatedly baffled by the more intricate nuances of British, Scottish, and Australian slang. Talking about winter clothes, I once mentioned the word "muff" to a Scottish friend, who immediately boggled at me. He delicately informed me that this word was quite a rude term in Scotland. Although we laughed about it, I'm sure that these "translation" problems happen all the time in any mud community that draws players from different countries. Who knew that the common language of English could present such hurdles?

Because my mud uses British spellings, I have been forced to grudgingly write "gray" as "grey", "color" as "colour", "first floor" as "ground floor" and "second floor" as "first floor", and have also been forced to find my old metric-English conversion tables from elementary school. This is an ego blow to an American. It's widely known (as a stereotype, anyway) that Americans like to think of themselves as the standard by which all others should be measured. Playing on a mud where Americans are definitely the minority, I've learned that the rest of the world has some rather nasty opinions of Americans. This is also an ego blow to an American. Simply declaring myself as an American on a chat channel can result in comments like "I'm so sorry", "I'll use shorter words then", and "we'll try not to hold it against you". Experiences like these have taught me that the American educational system is quite bereft of real education about the international community, and from the media's perspective, America can only take its place on the world stage if it's allowed to be the star. It can be quite hard to be constantly cast as the ugly American on muds with international communities and not take it personally.

Mud communities bend the ideas of global time and space to the point of meaninglessness. When people from all over the world can "gather" in one "location" without leaving their chairs, space becomes irrelevant. The world shrinks to the size of a computer monitor and real-life locations become footnotes. Time becomes the real problem, because while measuring it only in terms of the server's local time serves well for game purposes, trying to arrange a real-life telephone call can become an exercise in arithmetic. It can be hard enough trying to determine the time difference between two cities with regard to Greenwich Mean Time, but add in additional bonuses like the International Date Line and Daylight Savings Time and this difference can fluctuate wildly. Once when trying to determine the time difference between my location and Sydney, Australia so I could make a phone call, I finally concluded, "They're eight hours behind here only the next day, so really they're sixteen hours ahead, except from April to November, when they're five hours behind only the next day, which means nineteen hours ahead. So me calling at two o'clock PM on a Friday reaches the other person six AM Saturday morning, so that's no good..." I gave up at this point and wrote an e-mail.

Meeting people from all over the world on the mud has taught me more about international relations and politics than every history and political science class I've ever taken. Depending on the circumstances, boundaries can disappear or cause real rifts between friends. The world can shrink or expand, depending on how you view it. There are tremendous possibilities in muds to encourage real learning about different cultures; perhaps one day the "global community" politicians dream of can truly become a reality.

Marcie Kligman plays on and creates for the Discworld mud. She edits for Imaginary Realities when she has time for it, which isn't often.