Great entitled, How not to be a knucklehead in a global business world [link no longer exists] (h/t to Seth Godin’s Blog) nicely summarizing some of the things those of us doing business internationally must consider to avoid being “a cultural knucklehead.” My favorite is the one instructing Americans to avoid baseball analogies when talking to a global audience. I always have difficulty with this one because so many such analogies fit perfectly in the legal world.

The way to treat a list like this is to realize that a walk is as good as a hit and that you can get just as many runs by hitting a series of singles as by hitting home runs.

  • “You can get just as many runs by hitting a series of singles as by hitting home runs.”
    That’s a great quote. I think I’m going to make it my quote for the week. Not that I have a quote for the week, but maybe I should have one of those too … There, just created a Quote of the Week sticky for my desktop. 🙂

  • LaoLaoe with you a common frustration

    I will apologize for not reading the linked article. However, I have to comment on you excellent advice about not using basebal analogies.
    Though most all Americans know what “stepping up to the plate” means, foreign business in China should not judge their interpreter’s competence based on an inablity to convey this message.
    For any Chinese interpreter’s out there, the best translation is suoyibuer. But even this is not accurate. I usually use the “suoyibuer” when referenceing the Chinese earlier comment about “doing the right thing” or “duiwohaojiushiduinihao”.
    To re-versalate(not a real world but a Laoism) “suoyibuer” it means to “Not say one thing and do another”.
    For you businessmen, at ALL costs, follow CLB’s advice and avoid American-centric analogies. IF you’re [very]lucky, you’ll find someone who CAN understand the true meaning of one of these types of analogy. But for them to translate it, that my friends is impossible. The best you can hope for is that the interpreter knows a Chinese saying with a similar meaning. You, the foriegn businessmenm have to give on on witicism to business in China.
    Looking forward to Steve’s comments on my remarks.
    From the Depths of Jiangsu Hell,

  • Kevin S.
    First off, I stole that line from a million coaches. Second off, I find it hard to believe anything I say could be the quote of anyone’s week (even if I stole it) that I have to wonder if you are being sarcastic.

  • LaoLaoe with you a common frustration —
    I will check in with Steve re these translations, but I am guessing you have them all right.
    There are some sayings that make for great translations and there are some sayings that are a bit different in various countries, but the meaning is still apparent. For example, I would think that an expression like “the early bird catches the worm” pretty easily into most languages.

  • nanheyangrouchuan

    Plain, simple english is also becoming more respected in US as opposed to “consultant speak” i.e., a lot of jargon and catch phrases. Professionals in other countries may still stumble on the uses of some words and phrases, but they will appreciate plain speaking (as it is also harder to have hidden meanings/dishonesty) in your words.

  • nanheyangrouchuan —
    I completely agree.

  • Duncan

    English people should also avoid cricketing metaphors. One poor translator I heard of had to deal with a bunch of Yorkshire men (not the easiest accent in the first place) making a joke that revolved around the phrase “playing on a sticky wicket”.
    He ended up using that old translation standby “The foreigner is making a joke. Please laugh now.”

  • Duncan —
    Duncan —
    I love Brit speak. My 9 year old daughter has a British friend and her best friend is half British and she loves speaking British (with a perfect accent, no less). Just yesterday we were going through the kids in her class to determine which were “a bit mental.”
    I did not know what “playing on a sticky wicket” meant so I looked it up. Here’s what I came up with:
    STICKY WICKET phrase. 1. A difficult situation. This phrase originates in the game of CRICKET. Jargon peculiar to games would normally not be included in the dictionary, however, STICKY WICKET is very commonly used. As in this quote of a BBC correspondent about the attack on Goose Green in the Falkland Islands, “The machine gun nest had us covered. It really was a STICKY WICKET.”
    To understand the derivation of this phrase, one must know a bit about the game. A pitcher (BOWLER) throws the CRICKET ball towards the batter (BATSMAN) who will attempt to strike the ball, thereby preventing the ball from hitting three sticks (WICKETS) behind him. The BOWL is not thrown entirely in the air (as in baseball), but is bounced in front of the batter.
    The part of the playing field is also known as the WICKET. After a rain, the WICKET may be rather soft (STICKY) and this may make the ball do very peculiar things. Playing on a STICKY WICKET then, puts the BATSMAN in a very difficult situation.
    Is this right?
    When we had my law firm’s website translated, we used a law professor for the work. She did an amazing job. The only words she could not figure out were the law degree (in French) received by one of of our attorneys and the words “art deco.”

  • I recently had an associate in France mention the language “globalish”, which he used quite a bit while at HP (hewlett-packard). He and his colleagues occasionally preferred communicating in an English/French hybrid because emails in english could be written in short form and very informally whereas something in French would require more formality and structure. This of course will probably be far more difficult to create between Chinese and English because of the differences. Of course, some people call this “Chinglish”, but I think that term was created to capture or convey something else. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more and more borrowed phrases and sayings. I love certain Chinese terms (although I probably basterd-ize them and don’t understand them fully or correctly). Certain words and sayings in Chinese capture a meaning so well sometimes, it’s hard not to want to try and use them.
    Business and trader languages have always been simple with the intent of conveying a lot of meaning in minimal words. Idioms, both Chinese and American, accomplish that. We already borrow a number of proverbs and quotes from Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu, I’d love to hear more American idioms and sayings that have permeated the business vernacular of Chinese who work internationally. I love basketball, so if anyone has any good sports idioms in reference to Yao Ming, I’m all ears.

  • The resume translation issue reminds me of this cartoon:

  • Audall —
    Sorry, I know of no Yao Ming sports idioms in either English or Chinese, but since I too love basketball, I will be listening.
    I also love language and just this past week I had a great discussion with Steve and the Shanghai lawyer who heads up the Shanghai law firm with which my firm is affiliated. I asked if Shanghaiese (which is typically spoken at our affliate firm) borrows many words from Mandarin and learned that it virtually never does. Now I knew that Shanghaiese is a very different language, but I had always assumed it had picked up a large number of Mandarin words over time, but it turns out this is not the case. I then talked about how when I listen to lawyers speaking Korean in Seoul, I can oftentimes pick up English language words that have been brought into everyday speech. This is far less true of lawyers in China speaking Mandarin.

  • Bart —
    Good one!

  • Thanks for the cross reference / link.
    Rob Millard