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International Relations

picture of world flags

Some of my readers may not know that I have international relations. My paternal grandmother was French, and I still have cousins in France whom we have visited and with whom I keep in touch. This past Saturday morning one cousin and I IM'd in French for about a half hour on Facebook. Then his dad, who is my age, took over and we IM'd until we decided to switch to Skype so that we could just talk — free and crystal clear. Talking is so much faster for us grandpas. I love having relationships with my extended family in France.

As a French teacher, I sometimes have students who say, "I don't know why I have to take a foreign language." From their limited perspective they don't realize that it's probably never been more important. Understanding other languages and cultures is essential for international relations, not only in the political and corporate arenas, but also especially in the realm of missions.

Today's post highlights examples of botched international relations — some serious and some lighthearted — just what you've come to expect from ivman's blague.

After the 2008 elections we were told that our new president was going to do much to raise the image of the USA around the world. And yet on the international stage this year he has made some serious gaffes. You American readers may not have heard about them since the mainstream media pretty much refuses to report anything negative about Obama.

First of all, at virtually every stop worldwide Obama has apologized for America. I could say a great deal about that, but my only comment for now is, not cool! Several months into office, Obama gave a gift to visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And what did he give him? Twenty-five movies on DVD — not in the right format for viewing once back in the UK. Obama has bowed to several foreign leaders he has met — something that no American president has ever done nor should ever do. Here are are pictures of him bowing to the Saudi king and the Japanese emperor:

picture of Obama bowing

picture of Obama bowing

I saw a cartoon online this past weekend and snagged it to share with my readers:

picture of Obama bowing to a king

Even if Obama himself doesn't know any better concerning what is and is not appropriate, I would think he would be careful to surround himself with people who do know better and can advise him.

Here's an except about Obama's latest round of international insults this past week as reported at guardian.uk.co:

The White House has cancelled many of the events peace prize laureates traditionally submit to, including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre.

He has also turned down a lunch invitation from the King of Norway.

According to a poll published by the daily tabloid VG, 44% of Norwegians believe it was rude of Obama to cancel his scheduled lunch with King Harald, with only 34% saying they believe it was acceptable.

Did you hear that on the news here? Many Americans don't know about these events, but people all over the world do know about them, shake their heads, and laugh at us. So much for improving the American image internationally.

Cross-cultural gaffes are not just the domain of politicians though. In today's global market, as many multinational corporations try to expand and prosper, they encounter difficulties because of language and cultural differences. Here are examples of some corporate gaffes:

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that no va in Spanish means "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car for its Spanish markets.

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax," depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, ko-kou-ko-le, which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."

In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead." When Pepsi started marketing its products in China a few years back, they translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life". The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".

An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" (el Papa in Spanish), the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato" (la papa).

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

When Braniff translated a slogan touting its upholstery, "Fly in leather," it came out in Spanish as "Fly naked."

The Microsoft ad slogan, as translated into Japanese: "If you don't know where you want to go, we'll make sure you get taken".

A Chinese-language software program translated the sentence, "Next Thursday we will hold a board meeting" into "Next Thursday we will hold a collection of planks of wood."

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off".

The U.S. Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that their Spanish translation read, "Are you lactating?"

When Parker Pens marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word embarazar meant embarrass. Instead the ads said, "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

A hair products company, Clairol, introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that Mist is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the manure stick.

picture of Gerber baby

Americans love Gerber baby food, but the French do not. Why? Perhaps it is because in French gerber is an everyday, family word for "to vomit" (read: "to puke"). Is that why that little mouth is wide open?! There's probably not much they can do about changing the Gerber brand name, but it isn't a very good way to sell baby food to mothers whose babies may spit up enough already!

When Gerber first started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the USA — with the cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside the container because so many people there can't read.

I wonder what people in France or Africa would do with this one....

Gerber picante sauce

I ran across an interesting picture online recently that is related to today's post since multinational business does involve money. Someone has done some creative folding of paper money from various countries.

picture of folded currency

We are amused at the mistakes foreigners make in their use of English, and I have featured some of these gaffes in previous blog posts. However we are every bit as guilty of mistakes when using other languages. Studying foreign languages and cultures can help us avoid some of these cross-cultural faux pas. I look forward to reading your comments on today's post.


"Both greed and worry spring from a heart that has not fully found rest in the Master." - Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Ivman thinks the Lord has a wonderfully delightful sense of humor — during the world conference on global warming, the Lord sent a widespread, monster snow storm here in the USA, as if to mock man's prideful folly.

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24 Comments on “International Relations”

  1. #1 Kathy Sorensen
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Now you’ve got me interested in international news stories, Rob! Here in SE Wisconsin we used to get a Japanese news show, but that disappeared from our TV sets years ago. We can get BBC if we pay more to cable for that channel, but I can’t afford to. We do get DW TV (German) with the American slant, so I’ve never heard any “gaffes” on that one, either.

    Question for you re: Obama and the Nobel Prize and luncheon with the King of Norway: WHY did he cancel the luncheon (for that matter, why did he cancel all of it?!).

  2. #2 Katie
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I thought we had a whole Office of Protocol or something to make sure that our President was aware of cultural expectations of different countries. With the number of mistakes made so far, I think I would replace whoever is running that office.

    Has the recent comments section be moved or removed? I can’t seem to find it and I usually look there to visit posts that have been commented on so I can see what others say. I enjoy the extra insight from your readers!

  3. #3 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    @Kathy – It’s amazing what the media chooses not to report, especially when you read other news sources. We don’t have cable, but we do have the internet. I read a lot of news online – NewsMax.com, CNSNews.com, and The Drudge Report I like to read PowerLine blog – they read a lot of news sources and distill some things, but actually report what’s going on out there!

    I also like to check out foreign news sources to get their perspective on things. You can find a lot of those by going to http://www.ipl.org/div/news and choosing the country of your choice.

    As to why Obama canceled his lunch with the king of Norway (and missed another opportunity to bow), you’ll have to watch ABC, CBS, CNN, or NBC to see what they have to say…. 😀

  4. #4 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 9:17 am

    @Katie – You would think so, wouldn’t you?! I’ve returned the “readers’ recent comments” to the sidebar. I felt bad that I got behind in my replies to comments and all the recent comments were from me. 🙂 With this new reply system, it may end up looking like that as I reply to each individual comment.

  5. #5 Ann
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Is it really possible that there are people who do NOT know that you have international relations? You mention it often enough that no one should be in ignorance of it. 🙂 I, too, have international relations. My maternal grandmother was from Sweden and the only person from her family to come to America. My maternal grandfather was from Germany and the only person from his family to come to America. My paternal grandfather was from England. He had two sisters that came to America. As far as we know, the other ten siblings remained in England. My paternal grandmother was the first person in her family to not be born in England.

    I subscribe to the RSS feed for your blague and read it in Outlook. The feed does contain the comments posted which is something that the e-mails did not do.

  6. #6 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 10:35 am

    @Ann – There are always new readers, and some people don’t have your long association with my postings, Ann. Plus I need a punny entrance into today’s post. 😀

  7. #7 Ann
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I hadn’t thought about the new readers part. Yeah, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? Going back into 2002 at least.

    I received a Christmas letter from a German friend (who lives in Rochester, NY). We met when we were both corresponding with Soviet Christians who were imprisoned for their beliefts. Martina is a translator who is fluent in German, Russian, and English.

    This summer, they spent a month in Germany with family and friends. One day, they went into France to go to a pizzeria where only French was spoken, but the menu had German and English, too. Martina said that the German was “sort of ok,” but the English “must have been computer generated and was horrible.” She asked, “Would you like to order a tarte flambee (Alsatian pizza-like speciality, traditionally topped with crème fraiche, onions and bacon) which was listed as ‘let us anoint and let us lard? That was meant to translate the French with ‘onions and bacon.'”

  8. #8 Jonathan
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    We were recently at a church listening to a musical couple from Israel. They gave their testimonies and told many interesting stories including one of Corrie Ten Boom. The funniest story, however, was of the husband conducting a Seder with Americans present. He mistranslated horse radish as horse rubbish. Talk about losing one’s appetite.

  9. #9 b.j.
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    (if I may give my unsolicited opinion… 🙂 ) Not sure I like the new commenting style, as my e-mail inbox is now full of comments, versus just one before. Also the comments font is very small now.

    Sometimes I almost feel like China or Hitler-Germany with the lack of real news that is given to us. I guess the days of “news” is over. Now it’s all editorials, I suppose.

  10. #10 Michael
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Great stuff! I need to get a collection of these mistakes to use in my Geography class. And, I echo your comments that we need to be culturally sensitive in today’s world. We can do unnecessary harm to the Gospel by being provincial American cads.

  11. #11 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    @b.j. – I’ll see how things look to others with the new comment format. If it’s less enjoyable, then of course I will resort to the previous configuration.

    As far as the MSM news “blackout” in the USA goes, it reminds me of what I’d heard about Pravda.

  12. #12 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    @Jonathan – That would make you think twice about what is placed in front of you. The translation doesn’t seem quite Kosher.

  13. #13 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    @Michael – Did you catch Michelle Obama’s touching the queen? Not the standard protocol, to say the least, especially when her husband bows to other dignitaries.

    Here’s a picture of Michelle in action:

    picture of Michelle Obama touching the queen

  14. #14 Ann
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Since my previous post, there are comments by Jonathan, b.j., and Michael. All I got in my inbox (in two e-mails) was Rob’s reply to Jonathan and Rob’s reply to Michael. Reading replies without knowing what is being replied to is confusing.

    As for font, my browser is Firefox which allows me to increase size of text using ctrl and + however many times until it’s big enough for me to read.

    Personally, I like the old way better. It really wasn’t all that hard to scroll up to see what was being replied to. Most of the time, I read the feed but don’t come to the blague itself. What I’ve seen done on other forums is that each item is numbered. Then when someone replies, they put something like #14…. making it easy to follow.

  15. #15 Rob
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    @Ann (and all) – I’ve switched the comments back to the way they were – it seemed to work so much better for everyone, including me. I thought it seemed like a good idea to foster interaction between the commenters, but it’s generally more confusing and makes for more comments, mainly from me. The old method allowed me to reply to several commenters at once.

  16. #16 Jenni
    on Dec 14th, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    When I lived on Guam (English-speaking US Territory), we had a number of ESL students in the school where I worked. One day a student came to lost & found looking for an item. I asked when he had lost it. He replied, “Tomorrow.” 🙂

  17. #17 Rob
    on Dec 15th, 2009 at 6:00 am

    @Jenni – That sounds like my Spanish. I took only one semester, and that was 39 years ago. I don’t know the word for yesterday, so I say mañana and wave my hand backwards over my shoulder to signify “in the past.” Everyone always gets it, for some reason, and either smiles or laughs.

  18. #18 Kathleen
    on Dec 15th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Ed Morrisey at hotair.com is running a daily feature, the “Obamateurism of the day”. Some days he has a difficult time choosing!

    Michelle Obama touching the queen was a very major news story over here, as was Obama’s gift to her. He gave her an iPod loaded with his own speeches!!!

    You can have cross-cultural issues even between English-speaking countries as well. To a British person, the signs in restaurants over there saying “No Solicitors” wouldn’t make much sense. Solicitors are lawyers!

  19. #19 Vikki
    on Dec 15th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    For what it’s worth, I saw the “new” comment format yesterday and I much prefer the old way the best. Thanx for switching it back!

  20. #20 Rob
    on Dec 15th, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    @Kathleen – Thanks for the perspective of one living outside the USA who has access to news not quite as “filtered” as ours is. I had read that Michelle’s touching the queen caused quite a stir in the UK. Oh my!

    @Vikki – Thanks for your input on that. I heard from several of my most frequent commenters that didn’t like the new format. The format has been available for a while, but I just hadn’t gone to it. It’s supposed to facilitate and encourage interaction between the commenters themselves. However if my most frequent commenters don’t care for it, it’s not logical for me to discourage them. Thanks for all your great comments, Vikki.

  21. #21 Sue
    on Dec 15th, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Five stars — I was literally laughing out loud over the various mis-translations!

  22. #22 b.j.
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Don’t worry, ivman, you won’t be able to discourage us from commenting that easily! (Better luck next time!) 😀

  23. #23 Lucy
    on Dec 29th, 2009 at 1:37 am

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  24. #24 Rob
    on Dec 29th, 2009 at 9:34 am

    @Lucy – Glad you’ve found my blog. Hope you’ll continue to enjoy it.