Thursday, November 22, 2007

The false story about the Chinese 'Coca Cola' tattoo

Here in the UK, a story was reported in The Sun newspaper about a Watford man, Vince Mattingley, who asked staff in a Chinese restaurant to translate his name into Chinese and got the words tattooed on his chest.

It was not until 26 years later that he learned, whilst on a trip to Thailand, that the characters etched on his skin were not his name but in fact spelled 'Coca Cola'.

Source: The Sun

The report quoted his obvious annoyance about this and the fact that he intends to cover up the tattoo with a new one - in Japanese this time.

Now, Mr. Mattingley comes out of the story looking a bit of a fool but the story also paints a negative picture of the Chinese restaurant staff who advised him. Clearly, they must have been quite malicious and inconsiderate to deceive Mr. Mattingley in this way.

The only problem is... the tattoo does NOT say Coca Cola in Chinese.

This is one of those quirky, funny, viral stories that gets emailed and forwarded around and sure enough, it soon went all around the world but the story is false.

What the tattoo spells is a close but not perfect phonetic translation of the man's name - Vincent. The characters are actually the same as those used by the Chinese drug and cosmetics chain 'Watsons' which has branches throughout Hong Kong.

This is a close up of Vince Mattingley's tattoo:

This is a charity appeal ad by the Watsons chain in which you can see the same two characters:

This is an ad for Coca Cola in Shanghai where you can clearly see that the logo is totally different:

There is no direct Chinese translation for 'Vincent' so the Chinese restaurant staff must have come up with the best character combination they could that both sounded like his name and made sense as a phrase (that wasn't obscene or odd-sounding etc.).

So far from being a cruel trick played by sneaky Chinese people, the tattoo on Mr. Mattingley's chest is probably the best match possible to his name in Chinese.

It's not clear why someone in Thailand told Mr. Mattingley that his tattoo said 'Coca Cola'. It might have been a simple wind-up, or they may have been referring to the Watson's brand of water and cold drinks. In any case, that's not what the tattoo says.

A urban myth involving Chinese people that turns out to be false? Who would have thought it?

Related: Stupid rumours about Chinese restaurants. Will they never end?


Anonymous said...

Even IF those restaurant staff did intentionally joke/lie, so what?! They don't represent the whole Chinese people on the planet, just themselves.

Anyway, the guy's a nonce for not checking.

burntbreadboy said...

Well, the most interesting thing for me is how a blatantly incorrect story became accepted as fact. I bet you there are now plenty of people around the world who remember 'that bloke with the tattoo who was tricked by the Chinese waiters' etc.

You're right, even if it was true (and it isn't) the individuals don't represent our whole race but it still adds to the overall negative myths about Chinese people. Unless these things get balanced out, you can see how people might end up with an unbalanced view of us as people (if the only ever hear bad stuff) and end up literally believing anything and everything that they hear about us.