Cultural And Diplomatic Gaffes

Cultural Gaffes

1. In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto "Wang Cares". Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not really give a very positive image to any company.

2. There are several examples of companies getting tangled up with bad translations of products due to the word “mist”. We had “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink), “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) all flopping as “mist” in German means dung/manure. Fancy a glass of Irish dung?

3. “Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.

4. In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organisations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.

5. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that "bundh" sounded just like the Punjabi word for "arse".

6. Honda introduced their new car "Fitta" into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that "fitta" was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman's genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it "Honda Jazz".

7. A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world: staff at the African port of Stevadores saw the “internationally recognised” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!

Diplomatic Gaffes

British Prince Phillip is famous for his offensive remarks:

"British women can't cook."

"It looks as if it was put in by an Indian." (In 1999, referring to an old-fashioned fuse box in a factory near Edinburgh.)

"Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf." (In 1999, to young deaf people in Cardiff, referring to a school's steel band.)

"They must be out of their minds." (In 1982, in the Solomon Islands, after being told that the annual population growth was only 5%.)

"You are a woman, aren't you?" (In 1984, in Kenya, to a native woman who had presented him with a small gift.)

"You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly." (In 1993, to a Briton in Budapest, Hungary.)

"Aren't most of you descended from pirates?" (In 1994, to an islander in the Cayman Islands.)

"You managed not to get eaten, then?" (In 1998, to a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea.)

"If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it." (At a 1986 World Wildlife Fund meeting.)

"If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed." (During a state visit to China to a group of British students.)

"How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?" (In Scotland.)

"Still throwing spears?" (Question put to an Australian Aborigine during a visit in March 2002.)

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