I’m not Japanese. But ever since my wife and I moved to Kyoto, the Internet sure seems to think we are.
Google is supposedly this big, Skynet-like company that lives to collect data on us. Yet it’s not very smart about language. As soon as we stepped foot in the land of the rising sun, it asked my wife if she wanted to display Google in Japanese, and she clicked “yes” by mistake.
Not only did Google start showing her its user interface in Japanese, but the real problem was that all her search results were from Japanese sites, too! And going back seemed impossible. Going through Google.com instead of Google.co.jp did nothing. Changing her langage settings was just as useless.
Turns out Google Search uses a different language preference page.
To be fair, my wife did make that mistake. But it still doesn’t make much sense. Does Google assumes that we live in The Matrix, and you can learn a new country’s language instantly as soon as you move there?
And by the way, want to check out a post on Blogspot? Off to blogspot.jp you go. This doesn’t change the page itself, only the URL. So what does redirecting me accomplish, except make me feel that I’m not in control of what sites I can access?
But Google is not the only one. Bastion (an otherwise outstanding game) insisted on showing me its horrible french subtitles even though I never asked for it, and my default system language is english. I’m not even sure how it knew I’m French, to be honest.
The iTunes Store also thinks I’ve developed sudden Japanese language skills. I guess I’ve got only myself to blame, since I did input a Japanese delivery address. As far as Apple is concerned I live in Japan, so I speak Japanese!
The worst part is that it doesn’t even show me Japanese shows. Those are just the japanese versions of the same old crappy movies!
Of course, I’ve only talked about localisation so far. Don’t even get me started on restricted content. Rdio has finally arrived in France, except that I’m not there anymore. Guess I’ll have to wait until they make their way to Japan, hoping I don’t move to Bhutan, Mongolia, or Mars before that.
What would’ve happened if I had created a Rdio account back in France? Could I still access it from here? What if I was a paying customer, would that change anything?
My point with all this is that all these companies usually already know A) where I’m from and B) what languages I speak. But for some reason, they systematically decide to override both with C) where I happen to be on the planet at this particular moment.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the time, you have no way of doing anything about it. And when you can do something, it’s often buried in layers of menus, which –don’t forget– are all in Japanese, Bhutanese, or Martian…
So what can you do about this right now? Here are a couple tips.
- Manually set Google.com as your default search engine in your browser, using the URL http://www.google.com/search?q=%s (the %s will be replaced by your search query).
- Visit https://www.google.com/ncr (which stands for No Contry Redirect), or https://www.google.com/?hl=en.
- Make sure that both Google language settings page (this one and that one) are correctly configured.
- Try adding a second language to your OS, as explained in this helpful comment by Silas Snider.
- Get a VPN.
- Learn Japanese.
This whole thing goes to show that Internet companies are still surprisingly dumb when it comes to language and nationality. Let’s hope this will change soon, because I’ll be here for at least the next two or three years, and I’d love to check out Rdio at some point…
Note: There’s a great discussion going on about this over at Hacker News too.