Sesame Street International: 9 Notable Muppets From Around the World
There are currently more than 20 versions of Sesame Street in countries around the world. From Oscar the Grouch's Israeli cousin to Nigeria's Yam Monster, here are some of our favorite international Muppets.
1. Oscar the Grouch's Israeli Cousin
The Israeli version of Oscar the Grouch is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew. The biggest difference between the two is that when Moishe started on the Israeli show, he lived in a broken-down car instead of a garbage can. The reason? Israeli kids are taught not to play in trash receptacles because they might contain bombs. Moishe also happens to be an observant Jew; he celebrates Rosh Hashanah by dipping apples into sardine grease for a slimy New Year.
2. Nigeria's Yam Monster
In Africa, Sesame Street doesn’t shy away from the big issues. The Nigerian adaptation of the show stars Kami, the world’s first HIV-positive Muppet (introduced by South Africa's Takalani Sesame), and Zobi, a fluffy, blue cab driver who educates children about malaria. The production has its lighter side, too. Zobi is also the Nigerian version of Cookie Monster, though he’s more of a Yam Monster. Since not many Nigerian children have access to cookies, the producers decided to give Zobi an insatiable craving for one of the country’s staple foods. He often shouts out, “Me eat yam!”
Bluki is a full-bodied blue cat-like creature seen on Barrio Sesamo in Spain back in the late '90s. He resembles nothing so much as the physical manifestation of a bad drug trip—a monster as big as a person and bright blue with pink toes, wearing a wristwatch, stylish waistcoat and propeller hat. But apparently the kids loved him.
4. Big Bird's Parrot Cousin
Abelardo Montoya is the impressively monikered and plumaged Mexican parrot cousin of Big Bird who first appeared on Plaza Sésamo in 1981. He is not to be confused with Abelardo the crocodile, who prefigured Abelardo Montoya in the 1970s. Today, Plaza is broadcast across Central and South America and is conducted in Colombian-style Spanish, which is a more neutral form accessible to children in several different countries. In a sign of the times, Abelardo occasionally internet video chats with his big yellow cousin back on Sesame Street.
5. The Very Busy Pancho Contreras
Pancho, a friend of Abelardo on Plaza Sesamo, has some grouch-like tendencies, but is more Type A than Oscar ("I’m very busy because I’m very busy. I don’t have time.") He's literate, plays the cello and likes to crush his competitors in various games of skill. He's exudes Pancho Villa rather than Sancho Panza. Pancho even has his own show within the show called Pancho Visión, which undoubtedly further serves to inflate his already considerable ego.
6. Samson Can Do Anything
Samson is one of the main characters on Sesamstrasse, the German coproduction of Sesame Street. In appearance, he looks like a distant relative of Captain Caveman, and is the only holdover from the original Sesamstrasse lineup. His signature song goes “Ich bin Samson, und ich schaff's!,” which may sound German and vaguely menacing to our untrained American ears, but actually means “I am Samson, and I can do anything!” Inspirational.
Sidebar: The Balkans — Where the Alphabet Spells Trouble
Sesame Street has ventured into places where friendly neighbors are tough to come by. In 2006, the show launched a Kosovo version, which was broadcast in both Albania and Serbia. This dual audience immediately created a problem—nobody could agree on which alphabet to use.
The Serbians wanted to use Cyrillic, but the Albanians view Cyrillic as a throwback to Cold War tyranny; they wanted to use the Latin alphabet. The show’s creators came up with an ingenious solution. They invented a “visual dictionary,” in which children of different ethnicities held up an object and said its name in their own language. It’s hard to think of Communist oppression when you’re looking at a preschooler holding an apple.
7. Kubik the Tinkerer
From Mendeleev to Pavlov to Sakharov, Russia has boasted some of history's greatest scientists and inventors. Kubik, an orange-yellow creature from Ulitsa Sezam, is cut from this brainy cloth. He's an inveterate tinkerer, always curious to know how things work. Hopefully one of these days he will get to inventing something useful, like the emissions-free engine or the hoverboard.
8. The Dutch Daredevil Chicken
Who better to teach kids to face their fears than a daredevil chicken? That was the thought behind Stuntkip, who first appeared on the Dutch co-production Sesamstraat in 2008. Death-defying stunts performed include Stuntkip once telling her aunt that she didn't want a second portion after fearlessly finishing a first plate of Brussels sprouts, riding an elevator, and checking under the bed for monsters. Just more evidence that the Low Countries have a lot of grit.
9. An Even More Adorable Muppet
Kawaii is the Japanese culture of cuteness, embodied by symbols such as Hello Kitty or Pikachu. The Japanese version of Sesame Street is infused with the aesthetic, too. On the program, Teena, a young girl Muppet, is meant to represent kawaii; she dresses all in pink, loves flowers, and wears them in pigtails in her purple hair. She’s so tiny, perky, and sweet she makes Hello Kitty look like a middle-aged cat lady.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Nov-Dec issue of mental_floss magazine. Images courtesy of Muppet Wiki and The Sesame Workshop.