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There was the referendum on Britain’s departure from EU, the nominations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as presidential candidates of Democratic and Republican parties, the suppression of a coup d’état in Turkey, a series of terrorist bomb attacks and civilian shootings in the city centre. A lot of things are happening today. But it is also true that there are many people around us who don’t care at all what are happening in the world.

In Japan, we call the attitude of those who look on these issues as nothing to do with themselves “they look it as a 対岸の火事" – fire on the bank of the other side of a river.

Is there a figurative expression to mean the same with “対岸の火事” in English?

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    You have Douglas Adams' SEP field, which renders everything inside of it invisible to everyone outside of it. SEP, of course, stands for Someone Else's Problem, which are usually invisible to everyone whose problem they aren't. Hobos (homeless people) are given as examples of people surrounded by SEP fields.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 26, 2016 at 21:03
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    The first thing that came to my mind was watching Rome burn, but that's a different thing. @Dan’s suggestion is probably not well-known enough to be generally recognised, but it's a very good fit. (If you haven't read Douglas Adams, an SEP is a Someone Else’s Problem.) Jul 26, 2016 at 21:06
  • @Dan Baron. We also have 他人事., which is exactly same as ”somebody else's problem" and means "indifference." Saying the same thing. But 対岸の火事 seems to have a stonger impact of "figurative" expression than SEP to me. Doesn't it? Any way probability of Mr. Trump's (who demands Japan's nuclear armament) becoming the President of U.S. isn't SEP to us. Jul 26, 2016 at 21:17
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    "couldn't care less"
    – user180089
    Jul 27, 2016 at 0:34
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    @Jim. "Watching the fire on the bank of the opposit side of a river" may mean they are just onlookers who might be enjoying the fire like watching a comedy show. And the fire is none of their business, without thinking over seriousness of its outcome. Most of Japanese are watching the U.S Presidencial election race as if SEP. But I believe its consequence will directly and indirectly influence U.S. Japan relationship and geo-political situations of the U.S. and Asia in face of the quick rise of Chinese hegemonism in the region as evidenced with its claim on possession of the Spratly Islands. Jul 27, 2016 at 3:20

5 Answers 5

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Probably not a perfect fit, but close in meaning is:

It's no skin off my nose. (British, American & Australian informal) also It's no skin off my (back) teeth. (American informal)

  • something that you say which means you do not care about something because it will not affect you.

(Cambridge Idioms Dictionary)

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It's not my dogTFD

It’s not my problem.
"So what! It doesn’t matter! Not my dog."

"Not my circus, not my monkeys", literal translation of a Polish idiom, would be interesting too.

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    +1, but the more familiar version is "I don't have a dog in this fight"
    – ab2
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:01
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    "Not my circus, not my monkeys" deserves wider circulation than just Poland. Jul 27, 2016 at 21:20
  • "Not my circus, not my monkeys" is certainly current in the UK, at least.
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2016 at 22:05
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    RE: "Not my dog" - there was a classic bit in one of the original Pink Panther movies where Clouseau stands next to a man with a dog. He asks "Does your dog bite?" and the man answers "No." So Clouseau pets the dog, and naturally it bites him. Clouseau: "I thought you said your dog does not bite!" Man: "It is not my dog."
    – MT_Head
    Jul 27, 2016 at 22:10
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I think burying one's head in the sand is quite close in meaning. According to The Free Dictionary, it means "to ignore or hide from obvious signs of danger", due to an alleged ostrich behaviour. (In finance, this gave rise to the Ostrich effect: "avoiding to expose oneself to [financial] information that one fear may cause psychological discomfort".)

Psychologically, the ostrich behaviour is a kind of defense mechanism (of closing one's ears to unpleasantness). I do not know whether this phenomenon (the defense mechanism) is inherent in the Japanese idiom, which may capture a bit more passive attitude. However I gather from the fact that it involves a fire that an inward coping with some unpleasantness is involved in both.

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  • Actually those who watching a fire on the bank of the other side of a river is enjoying the oter's fire because the fire doesn't harm them.Wherea the ostrich burying her head is in panic because of the nearing disaster. Those who rubber neck need not avoid the disaster as it's not their problem.. So I think there's a difference between both analogues of "the fire on the other side bank" and "the ostich burying her head." Jul 28, 2016 at 11:21
  • @YoichiOishi I see, thank you. But then perhaps the idiom about watching the fire on the other bank of the river is not quite pertinent to the situations you gave as examples -- the attacks in Europe, for example: I'm not aware of anyone enjoying them, even if they happen to neighbours. Also, the ostrich effect I described is not characterized by panic, but rather, by avoidance.
    – anemone
    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:12
  • "enjoying" the other side fire woudn't be adiequate discription. I corrected it. In net, it says one pays attention, but thinks it's not his problem. Jul 28, 2016 at 21:27
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The closest figurative expression I can think of is: -

None of their business

None of their business. Not of their concern.

As the explanation you have quoted states: -

"[The issue has] ...nothing to do with" the individual or party concerned. While Josh's suggestion: -

It's no skin off my nose

Conveys a sense that the party in question is unaffected, the sense is one of nonchalence, they may still be directly involved in the event.

The sense of 'distance from the event' that the fire on the other side of the bank coveys, I would say is closer to this being 'none of their business'. So I would rewrite: -

We call the attitude of those who look on these issues as nothing to do with themselves “they look it as a 対岸の火事 - a fire on the bank of the other side of a river.

As: -

We call the attitude of those who look on these issues as nothing to do with themselves “they look on it as none of their business".

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    Actually "that's none of your/their business" is something you say to someone stating that should stay out of something (but that is not the issue discussed here). The sense that they feel unaffected, but they are actually involved is the meaning the saying conveys.
    – user66974
    Jul 27, 2016 at 7:03
  • Not so. See 20 here referring to the sense which you speak of ; and the sense I refer to here "none of one's affairs" - affair can certainly be used to mean, 'an event' see 3 here
    – Gary
    Jul 27, 2016 at 7:21
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couldn't care less seems like the most widely used phrase for this type of context:

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

Be completely indifferent.

"The viewers couldn't care less about the disasters on television"

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