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Cross-cultural communication gaps:

The world of travel and the accompanying clashes of culture yield not only adventure and interestingly different ways to embrace the world, but a faux pas or two that are head-scratcing or amusing or both. The advice from Waxed Tadpole is to recognize and accept that as the reality of traveling, and smile at the missed connection.  Below are a few examples from the book:


  • For their inaugural flight to Tokyo, United Airlines flight attendants wore white carnations (chrysanthemum).  In Japan, these white flowers are primarily used for funerals..
  • In Austria, placemats used at McDonald’s restaurants included a map of Austria.  The map drawn on the placemat, however, outlined Austria as it was shaped during the Nazi occupation. 
  • Coors translated its slogan “Turn it loose” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea.”  


A business executive in the Los Angeles area was hosting clients from India. On the way to an event, he discovered he had to pick up something in the desk in his office at home, so he deposited his four guests in his living room while he went down the hall to retrieve it.


When he came back, the four men had found and opened a wooden box on the coffee table containing his wife's pink sponge curlers. The business men from India each had a curler or two in their hands and were inspecting them closely.


"Ah," said the one who been in the United States the most, "I was explaining to them that these were what American women put in hair when they go to market."



Translations and signs do not always turn out as intended:


  • In a Norwegian hotel, a sign read: “Ladies are requested not to have babies in the bar.


  • Taking customer satisfaction to the next level could be the interpretation of this sign, posted in a Japanese hotel room: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.” 


  • In order to live up to this “invitation” you may have to adhere to the suggestion, found in a hotel room in France: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”


  • In Greece, beware of check-in lines. The following sign was very to-the-point:  “We will execute customers in strict rotation.” 

  • This may also explain a sign in a hotel in Athens:  “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.”




Be careful of images, as they don't always translate.


While the image of a broken wine glass is routinely interpreted as "Fragile," in much of the Western world, African longshoremen unfamiliar with the symbol thought it meant "broken," and they tossed the cargo into the ocean.

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