By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to broaden your global perspective. Reading time: 2:45
In England, you overhear this conversation between a young couple leaving a restaurant. The guy says to the girl: “I will bring a torch with me and knock you up in the morning.” In plain English, he was saying that he would bring a flashlight over to her house when he called on her in the morning and awakened her either personally or by phone.
Language barriers can be embarrassing.
Even the President of the United States once told a crowd of Germans in what was then West Berlin that he was a pastry. John F. Kennedy was trying to say that he was a Berliner (“Ich bin Berliner.”) Instead he said “Ich bin EIN Berliner. The next day editorial cartoonists had a lot of fun depicting talking donuts although scholars have noted that technically
It is instructive that even though Kennedy’s rendition was correct, the media still played up the perceived gaffe. The media at the time preferred not to focus on the accuracy of the President’s observation that he was a Berliner even though he literally did not reside in or come from Berlin. But no matter.
The media swayed with the minority in the crowd who heard a foreigner mangle their language and they wanted to have their fun. That’s the risk you take when you try to speak in a foreign language. Mistakes are bound to happen. And the media will amplify those mistakes.
In global economy leaders can no longer afford to make mistakes like these:
- A sign in a hotel in Paris said: Ladies leave your values here before you go upstairs.”
- A sign in a Tokyo Hotel said: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”
- A sign in a Acapulco Hotel: ” The manager has personally passed all the water served here.”
- A sign in a Calcutta dry cleaners: “Drop your trousers here for best results.”
The most effective leaders know they have to watch their language or become pregnant! What? Pregnant? That’s what the Parker Pen company must have thought when they advertised a pen in Mexico. The ad copy was supposed to feature that the pen would not leak “in your pocket and embarrass you.” Instead the copy read that the pen would not leak “and get you pregnant.”
Meanwhile, another American company seemingly marketed poison instead of tea cups in Germany. The word — Giftware– was prominently featured on the packaging. The word for poison in German is “gift.”
Auto buyers in Mexico were confused when General Motors introduced a car (Nova) whose brand name translates in Spanish as Won’t GO.” Imagine the fright in Puerto Rico when American Motors introduced a car called the Matador. Matador means killer.
And Pepsi-Cola drinkers in China were bewildered when the advertising slogan “Come Alive With Pepsi” translated to “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead.”
Indeed , the most effective leaders know they have to watch their language on the global stage or be “em bare assed.”
Factor global meaning in your words to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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