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