Ten Examples of Cross-cultural Blunders

1) Some of IKEA’s product names make their customers blush in Thailand. For example, the “Redalen” bed sounds like Thai slang for “getting to third base”, whilst the “jatterbra” plant pot is a rather crude sexual word in Thai. As Thais can be quite conservative, IKEA has been forced to hire a team of local linguists to help them avoid committing any more translation faux pas.

2) Owners of the British food company Sharwood’s spent millions of pounds launching a new curry sauce in 2003 called “Bundh”, only to be inundated with calls from Punjabi speakers who embarrassingly informed them that the new offering sounded like the Punjabi word for “backside/bottom”.

3) Global internet search engine “Bing” experienced a slight problem after they launched in China, because “Bing” in Mandarin Chinese sound like “illness”, or it could also mean “pancake”, depending on what Chinese dialect is used. Therefore, the internet giant so they changed the name to “Biying” in China, in reference to the longer Chinese expression “you qui bi ying” which roughly translates as “seek and ye shall find.”

4) When Coca-Cola launched its fizzy drink in China in 1927, it found that some local shopkeepers had produced homemade signs using Chinese characters to replicate the sound of the words “Coca-Cola”, without noticing that the characters in combination could be read as “female horse fastened with wax” or “bite the wax tadpole”, according to researchers from Coca-Cola. Coke tweaked the characters so they had an additional meaning: “to permit the mouth to be able to rejoice.”

5) A sales manager in Hong Kong tried to control employee’s punctuality at work, and insisted they arrive at work on time, rather than 15 minutes late. The employees duly complied. However, they also left exactly on time, instead of working on into the evening as had previously been their practice. As a result, a lot of work was left unfinished. Finally the the manager was forced to relent and the employees returned to their usual time schedule.

6) An aftershave for men, which was marketed in the Middle East in the 1970s, depicted a picture of a pastoral scene featuring a man and his dog. However, the product dramatically failed in Islamic countries, where dogs are considered unclean.

7) An advertisement released by Mountain Bell to promote its telephone services in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s failed miserably. The advertisement showed an executive talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk, and showed the soles of his shoes – an act that is considered extremely offensive and which an Arab would never do.

8) A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of four to promote their ease of purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, the pronunciation of the word “four” in Japanese sounds like the word “death”, and thus items which are packaged in “fours” are very unpopular.

9) In Indonesia, no-one berates a person in public. However, an American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia shouted at an employee to take a boat to shore in a rather aggressive manner. In the ensuing chaos, a mob of outraged workers chased the shocked supervisor with axes.

10) U.S.and British negotiators found themselves at an unexpected impasse when the American company proposed that they “table” particular key points. In the U.S. “tabling a motion” means to not discuss it, whilst the same phrase in Great Britain means to “bring it to the table for discussion.”

The examples above clearly show that that poor cross-cultural awareness can result in consequences, some of them comical, whilst others have far more serious implications.

Thus, in today’s globalised economy, investing in companies with regional expertise such as UKPROedits, can help your business prosper and grow without fear of committing embarassing and potentially costly blunders.