Making mistakes internationally

May 13 2008 by Print This Article

Thanks to the internet and other technology, doing business in other parts of the world is easier than ever before. But if you don't know the culture or the language of that country, you could end up in big trouble.

Just what sort of trouble is discussed in this article by Rebecca Falkoff on

The first hurdle to deal with is language. The article relates a story of a man in Germany who wanted to ask a fellow passenger do close a window shade because the sun was making the bus too hot. He asked, "Bist du heiss?" It turns out that he was asking if his fellow passenger was aroused rather than too warm.

Even going to a place that speaks English can be risky. A businessman walked into a store in Great Britain to ask if they had any pants to match his blazer. It turns out in Great Britain "pants" mean underwear and "trousers" was the correct word he should have used.

Another man in Australia asked what team someone was "rooting" for which turned out to be slang for sex. He should have used the term "barrack."

Finally, another traveler in Taiwan walked into a bakery and started taking donuts from a tray near the cashier. He was surprised when workers in the bakery yelled at him to stop.

The storyteller writes, "later, I learned that the tray on the counter was reserved for the ghosts of their ancestors. At any rate, I was basically taking sacrificial food from the altar."

So, wherever you travel, make sure you do your research. The pastry you eat could lead to an international incident in the wrong country. A little knowledge can help your business reach further than you could have imagined.