As most adventurous travellers know, when exploring the far and remote corners of the world, it can be difficult to communicate clearly.
Try as we might to understand the local rhetoric and interact effectively, there’s still something to be said for those hilarious moments of misunderstanding.
One of the instances most easy (and most fun) to misinterpret?
Signage gone wrong.
Doug Lansky has collected the best signage fails from his travels around the world for Lonely Planet’s latest book. Pictured: a hotel sign points out the obvious in Austin, Texas
Although the prices are unclear, a Beijing cafe’s tasteless coffee option seems far less appetising
In Essex, England, this sign doesn’t do a very good job of keeping this top-secret location under wraps
And that is the topic of Lonely Planet’s latest book: Ultimate Signspotting: Absurd And Amusing Signs From Around The World.
For those who enjoy living life on the edge, this sign in Suzhou, China, is made for you
This sign in Rome, Georgia, has us asking: how much do new rainbows go for?
It’s clear from this Ambridge, Pennsylvania sign that Reverend John Ritter is one very content fellow
‘That is, new hilarious signs are going up all the time. At times, it seems like a race between the people who put up these ridiculous signs and those who try to photograph them.
‘Over the last 20 years, I’ve gathered well over 50,000 sign photos from well-travelled amateur and professional photographers.
‘Trying to decide which is unintentially funny enough to merit inclusion in a Signspotting book has been a challenge.
‘Trying to select favourites among those for this ‘ultimate collection’ has been downright unnerving.’
In Maui, Hawaii, the definition of the word ‘bottomless’ clearly means 65 feet
Slippery pedestrians are a problem when it rains, according to this grammar fail in San Francisco, California
A local dental clinic in Taipei, Taiwan sure doesn’t do much to assure nervous patients
In Dublin, Ireland, drivers are encouraged never to settle for second best
Ironically, the view of this New Hampshire sign is anything but clear
Commuters in Camebridge, Massachusetts, are warned of some major delays with this hilarious sign
Ears too floppy? Nose too long? According to this sign in Jaipur, India, there are people here to help
The following is an excerpt from The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, in which author Charles Murray discusses words with meanings that have changed — and not always for the better.
Disinterested used to mean uninterested.
The meaning of disinterested is “free of bias and self-interest.” It is essential that a judge be disinterested, for example. Disinterested does NOT, repeat NOT, mean “lack of interest” or “uninterested.” I put this so emphatically because we’re not talking just about proper usage. Disinterest used in its correct sense is on its last legs—I’ve been appalled to see it misused in articles in the Washington Post and other major publications. English does not have another word that conveys the meaning of disinterested as economically. If we lose the distinctive meaning of the word, we have measurably degraded our ability to express ourselves in English.
Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Apply these tips to improve your language:
|What could be wrong with sipping vodka in Russia? Or with eating with your left hand in India, or with patting the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”?In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense. They could even damage a relationship or ruin a major deal.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world.
In this article, we’ll discuss why it is so important to be aware of different cultural traditions. We’ll also highlight some gestures and actions to avoid if you want to build good working relationships with people from these cultures.
The Importance of Cultural Awareness
It’s not just professionals working overseas who need to learn cross-cultural business etiquette. Stop and think about how many different cultures you come into contact with at work.
Even if you work in your home country, your colleagues and suppliers could hail from other cultures. Your organization might decide to acquire or merge with an organization in a different country. And your customers, too, may be located in dozens of countries worldwide.
Our world’s diversity is what makes it so fascinating. When you take time to understand the reasons for this diversity, you show respect for other people’s cultures. And when you do this in a business context, you’ll improve your working relationships and develop your own reputation.
Considering Cultural Differences
Consider the following questions when thinking about how a culture might differ from your own:
- What values does this culture embrace? How do these values compare with those of your culture?
- How do people make decisions, conduct relationships, and display emotion?
- How does this culture treat time and scheduling?
- What are the social rules and boundaries surrounding gender?
- How does this culture display and respect power? Which authority figures are revered?
- How do individuals relate to their employers?
- How do people in this culture communicate? How direct are they in what they say and mean?
See our article on cultural intelligence to learn how to work well in different cultures. This is a powerful skill that can be learned and developed throughout your working life.Tip 2:
Be humble. Whatever you learn about cultural differences, there will be local and regional variations that you won’t know about. Admit that you’re keen to learn, and encourage people to tell you about these variations.
Common Cross-Cultural Mistakes
Below we’ve listed actions and items that could cause offense in a variety of cultures and countries. (Note, however, that this list isn’t exhaustive!)
People abstain from eating and drinking certain foods for many religious and cultural reasons. Manners and expectations at the table can also differ.
- In Asian and Russian cultures, it’s common not to talk during a meal because the food is the focus. Most conversation takes place after dinner. This isn’t the case in, for example, Japan, where colleagues often discuss work after hours and while socializing over a meal.
- How much you eat can cause offense in some cultures. For example, your hosts in Russia, Greece, and Italy could be offended if you don’t eat enough.
- Pay careful attention to how you use your chopsticks in Asian countries. Never use them in a gesture or for pointing, and never stick them upright in your rice bowl: this is an omen of death. Don’t use them to spear a piece of food or to tap a glass or bowl, either. And never cross your chopsticks; they should always lie side by side.
- Try to avoid turning down vodka in Russia – when it’s offered, it’s a sign of trust and friendship. Vodka is served neat, and you should drink it all at once; Russians consider sipping vodka to be rude.
- Muslims, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists avoid alcohol.
- Hindus, India’s largest religious population, consider it unholy to eat beef. Most are also vegetarian. Muslims and Jews are forbidden to eat pork (and, in addition, Jews do not eat shellfish), and Roman Catholics may choose fish rather than red meat on Fridays.
Body Language and Gestures
- In India, Africa, and the Middle East, people always use their right hand for greeting, touching, and eating. They consider the left hand unclean, so you should never use it for anything publicly.
- Several cultures consider crossing your legs to be rude. For example, in the Middle East and South Africa, crossed legs often show the sole of the foot, a sign of an ill wish or a bad omen. In Japan, it’s considered rude to cross your legs in the presence of someone older or more respected than you.
- Certain gestures considered acceptable in one country can be highly offensive in another. For example, a “thumbs up” gesture is seen as a sign of satisfaction in the West, but is highly offensive in some Middle Eastern countries.
- In the United States, a handshake demonstrates that negotiations are finished, and that everyone is leaving on good terms. In the Middle East, a handshake is a sign that serious negotiations are now beginning.
- In many cultures, pointing is impolite, so it’s usually best to avoid it entirely. If you must gesture toward something, use your entire hand.
It can be challenging to know which gestures are taboo.A good rule of thumb is to avoid gestures until you’re sure that they’re acceptable. Watch how locals use body language, and follow their lead.
Clothing and Color
- In the South Pacific, Asia, Thailand, and Russia, it’s courteous to remove your shoes before entering a home. This helps maintain cleanliness; but it’s also a sign that you’re leaving the outside world where it belongs.
- Some cultures pay careful attention to clothing. For example, it’s important to be well dressed in Italy and the United Arab Emirates, and sloppy or casual clothing is considered impolite.
- The color of your clothing could also cause offense. For example, never wear yellow in Malaysia; this color is reserved for royalty. In China, you’ll make a better impression by wearing red, which is considered lucky, than by wearing white, which is associated with death.
Personal space is the distance that you keep between yourself and another person. It varies widely between cultures.
- In the United States, many people prefer to keep one to two meters’ space between friends and family members, and up to three meters between strangers and business associates. These preferences are similar in the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, and other European countries.
- The personal space requirements of Saudi Arabians are much lower: they often stand very close to one another, even those they don’t know well.
- Chinese people and people from other Asian cultures are also typically used to less personal space than Westerners.
It’s important to understand the personal space requirements of a different culture, so that you’re not perceived as rude (by standing too far away) or pushy (by standing too close).
Personal space also includes touching. In Mediterranean and South American cultures, touching is an important part of conversation and connecting. If you don’t touch others, you’ll be considered cold. However, in Eastern countries, touching is often considered taboo, and you’ll offend your colleagues if you even pat them on the back or touch their arm.
Cross-cultural awareness is an essential skill, regardless of whether you’re working overseas, leading a cross-cultural or virtual team, or dealing with a global customer base. Learn about the culture of the country where you’re doing business to avoid cultural mistakes, and to demonstrate respect and understanding.
Research key differences in decision making, relationships, dress, food, dining, and social etiquette before working with or traveling to a different culture. Your hosts will notice your efforts, and appreciate that you took the time to learn about their culture.
In real world, the smarterst people are people who make mistakes and learn.
In school, the smartest people don’t make mistakes.
P.S. “If you’re not embarrassed by work you did years ago, you probably haven’t evolved or developed much.”