Even when language is translated, there can be missed or mangled meanings
because of the difficulty of translating connotative meanings, vs. denotative
- A General Motors auto ad with "Body by Fisher" became "Corpse
by Fisher" in Flemish.
- A Colgate-Palmolive toothpaste named "Cue" was advertised
in France before anyone realized that Cue also happened to be the
name of a widely circulated pornographic book about oral sex.
- Pepsi Cola's "Come Alive With Pepsi" campaign, when it was
translated for the Taiwanese market, conveyed the unsettling news that,
"Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave."
- Parker Pen could not advertise its famous "Jotter" ballpoint
pen in some languages because the translation sounded like "jockstrap"
- One American airline operating in Brazil advertised that it had plush
"rendezvous lounges" on its jets, unaware that in Portuguese
(the language of Brazil) "rendezvous" implies a special room
for having sex.
Four variables of cultural values1
- Masculine vs. feminine perspectives
- Not biological sex differences but overarching approaches to interacting
with others. Masculine cultures value achievement, assertiveness, heroism,
and material wealth. Feminine cultures value relationships, caring for
the less fortunate, and overall quality of life.
- Tolerance of uncertainty vs. avoidance of uncertainty
- Cultures in which people need certainty to feel secure are more likely
to have and enforce rigid rules for behavior and develop more elaborate
codes of conduct, either formal or informal.
- Concentrated vs. decentralized power
- Some cultures value equality and distribution of power more. Others
expect a hierarchy and that some people will have more power than others.
- Individual vs. group achievement
- Some cultures put more emphasis on individualism; some place most emphasis
on the good of the group.
1Summarized from material in Steven A. Beebe, Susan J. Beebe, and Mark V. Redmond, Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others (Needham Heights, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon, 1996), 345-365.
- Seek information about the culture. Knowledge is power. Prejudice
stems from ignorance. Basic idea here: do your homework, don't make assumptions.
- Be other-oriented. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz,
we're not in Kansas anymore. You can no longer rely on the assumptions
of your own cultural heritage. This is not to tear down the value
of your own culture; it is to make you aware of the richness that
is available to you in other viewpoints. This also does not mean to try
to be something you are not. It does mean allowing the other to
be whomever s/he is rather than who you think that person should be.
- Ask questions. Be prepared to share information about yourself,
and be sensitive in the way you ask (you don't want to be perceived as
prying). But open communication helps in reducing the uncertainty that
is present in any relationship.
- Develop mindfulness. This is another way of saying "be
aware." Acknowledge that there is a connection between thoughts and
deeds, and become aware of your own thinking and assumptions. Be conscious.
Be active, not reactive. Be aware of your own self-talk.
- Develop flexibility.
- Tolerate ambiguity. Communicating with someone from another
culture produces uncertainty, which can be uncomfortable. Learn to tolerate
the discomfort until you come out on the other side.
- Avoid negative judgments. Resist thinking that your culture
has all the answers. It has its strengths; so do other cultures.