Cultural mistakes

Everybody likes to hear about amusing mistakes. In order to illustrate how things can go wrong if you are not properly prepared for new business territories the Institute collects examples. If I were to list some of the better ones purely for amusement it would be easy to accuse me of generating trivia. So, at that risk here are a few:

An American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia learned that in that country you do not order people about in a raised voice. He shouted aggressively telling an employee to take a boat to shore. For the next ten minutes or so he spent an interesting game of evasion before escaping a mob of outraged workers brandishing work tools.
At his inaugural speech before the U.N. Security Council, Indian Foreign Minister, S. M. Krishna, got well into his dialogue before realising he was reading from a paper left on the podium by his Portuguese counterpart.

A good example of symbols not meaning the same thing across the world is the instance of dockers at the African port of Maputo. They eyed the normally recognisable symbol for fragile – a broken wine glass – plastered liberally across packing cases. Presuming the containers to be full of broken glass they despatched them into the sea.

When Pepsi first entered the Taiwanese market its slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ was translated as ‘Pepsi Brings your ancestors back from the dead’. Clairol introduced its curling iron, the ‘Mist Stick’, into Germany and discovered ‘mist’ in German means manure.

General Motors did not sell many Chevrolet Nova’s in South America because ‘nova’ in Spanish means ‘won’t go’. A US telephone company ran a disastrous advertising campaign in the same region based on a wife telling her husband to call a friend. The suggestion that a husband might be told what to do by his wife did not go down well is such a macho culture.

Entrepreneur hotelier Leona Helmsley, should have done her homework before she signed off a campaign comparing the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York to the Taj Mahal. The latter of course, is a mausoleum. And Kellogg’s had to rename Bran Buds Sweden when it found the name means burnt farmer.

And finally, a warning sign in English at Budapest zoo read: ‘Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.’

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