Monday, January 21, 2008

What Language Shall We Speak?

Observed in an Italian restaurant in Milan: A group of businessmen speaking Chinese among themselves, switching to English to order and discuss the menu with the waiter who, moments before, had been speaking Italian with all other customers. For the diners and the waiter was the common language allowing reasonably smooth communication.

We hear that English is THE language of business today, allowing enterprises to function, meals to be ordered world-wide. However, speaking English may not be enough. When working in Rome, my Italian guide and I found that the language most effective for us was a combination of Italian, French and English. Recognizing the level of our language skills, we adapted and with much laugher were able work together, converse clearly, accomplishing what we set out to do.

Create choices for yourself. Learn a few words of the language used at your destination. Please and thank in the local tongue are powerful tools for building connections. Learn a few phrases, common words. (Check out www. or for lessons, useful phrases) You never know when speaking some Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin or Polish can make a difference.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Be Prepared, Know the Hometown News

Wondering what people will be talking about when you reach a new destination? What should you know, be able to talk about? Whether your destination is a city or a country, you can find out what’s happening there by setting a Google News Alert ( Get the news daily, or weekly or as it happens. Choose written news, videos, or blogs. Be prepared. Surprise people with what you know. Read the Google News Alerts for three weeks before you travel and be able to talk knowledge – sports or politics, economics. Check it out before you go.

When You're Not Warren Buffett

When Warren Buffet traveled to China in November 2007 Becky Quick co-author of CNBC’s Squawk Box morning news program and her camera crew accompanied him. (You can find more about this trip by going to and then entering Buffett Watch into the search box.) One video from that trip, shown on Squawk Box, showed Mr. Buffet at a banquet, holding chopsticks in hand and proclaiming that he can’t eat with them, never learned how. Amid much laughter his hosts served him a hamburger, said to be his favorite food so he could avoid the chopsticks.

When you’re Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world and a major investor, your inability to adapt to eating with local dining tools can be amusing. However, if you’re not, if you’re a professional working for oneself or representing a corporation, similar behavior is not a laughing matter. Suddenly the message may be that you’re a person who doesn’t adapt easily, isn’t interested in the local culture, lacks flexibility.

Avoid being seen in that light. Before you go take a bit of time and check the appropriate style of eating, the utensils used at your destination. Develop your ability to handle whatever’s required whether it’s chopsticks, fork and knife in the continental style or the most basic of tools - your hands. Simple gestures can give powerful messages. Be seen as adaptable, flexible and respectful of the culture, willing to invest time and energy in learning about the environment, the people.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tomatoes Are For Decoration Only

When the meal is business and your salad includes pretty little cherry tomatoes, consider them decorative elements. Think of them as a bit of color added to the plate but not to be eaten. Why? Because they are potential flying objects.

Can you be sure you’ll be able spear them with your fork without having juice fly onto you or your neighbor? Or have tomato fly through the air? Save tomatoes for when the meal isn’t business. Otherwise, enjoy the color, but leave them untouched, protecting you and your neighbors.

What Did You Say? Translations are tricky.

Imagine you pick up a brochure at an event honoring an US-China relationship and discover misspellings, improper use of a words in the first two paragraphs. Its embarrassing even for the reader to find the first word in ones language misspelled, phrases that are unclear or awkward, clearly direct translations by someone using a dictionary. Technically correct but not how the language is used. From that moment on there’s a question of what else might be missed.

Avoid that disappointing impressions, having your document announce we’re strangers here, don’t speak your language, and aren’t too thorough.
Be sure native speaker checks the translation (and then have the translation translated back into the original language. Be sure the message comes through as intended.) Taking the extra step to insure your materials use the language appropriately allows the reader to focus on the message not the spelling and grammar. Be sure they’re reading what you want to say.