Classroom Talking Point: Intercultural Communication Gone Wrong

Coca-Cola Apologizes for Offensive Bottle Cap Message” reports the story of an Edmonton, Alberta, woman who opened her bottle of vitamin water and discovered a French word printed on the cap that, when read as an English word, means something terribly offensive. Coca-Cola had printed both French and English words on bottle caps as part of a promotional campaign. Coca-Cola has apologized and discontinued the promotion.

While the story itself is interesting, more interesting to me is the commentary after the article, particularly the many comments wondering why the language is offensive. News stories such as this provide discussion points for our business communication classes:

  • Why was this woman offended? What is it about the language that makes it offensive?
  • How would you respond to commenters who question why the language in the bottle cap is problematic? Are people who submitted comments overreacting? Underreacting? Appropriately reacting?
  • What if the word disparaged race, religion, or sexual orientation? Do you think people would have commented differently?
  • Did Coca-Cola react appropriately? Should Coca-Cola have done anything differently in addressing the issue?

While it is unfortunate that the incident happened at all, it does present us with a great opportunity to help our students become more sensitive and respectful business people.

On another note…Today is National Punctuation Day. Enjoy!

Blogging from ABC: Post Your ABC Comments Here…

Greetings from Chicago!

The opening plenary session was excellent! Patti Wood, certified speaking professional and expert on body language, gave us a lot to think about. Did you know that it can take up to six months to undo a first impression?

Particularly interesting was her discussion on handshakes. Yes, handshakes. According to Patti, a handshake is the equivalent of three hours of face-to-face contact. Yet, she said, many people approach the handshake incorrectly. Many people directly extend the hand straight out toward the receiver with the thumb pointed upward. This, however, leads to a wimpy handshake. A better approach is to angle the hand and extend it as though it were a plane circling for a landing.  Doing so allows you to lock thumbs and connect palms with the other person and makes for a much more powerful handshake.

Not so excited about shaking hands? Patti says a “fall-back handshake” can include approaching someone from the left and lightly touching the person’s left forearm with the fingertips of your left hand. Research shows that this has some of the same rapport-building effects as the handshake.

And a little trivia…Patti reports that depending on the research cited, 80-82% of those who give “bone crusher” handshakes have low self-esteem. Hmmm….

There are many  other wonderful sessions scheduled for the rest of the conference. As Jane noted, there are so many that we can’t attend them all. In the spirit of sharing our knowledge, please post your comments here regarding what you learn in your sessions. Enjoy the conference!

~Paula and Kathy

Can You Say That in English? Not Really . . .

Do you have enough “hygge” in your life? Are you a “kyoikumama”? Have you ever smacked your forehead when you thought of that “esprit d’escalier”?

Unless you live in Denmark, Japan, or France, you probably don’t know what we’re talking about—because “hygge,” “kyoikumama,” and “esprit d’escalier” are all terms that appear on Listverse‘s top “10 Words That Can’t Be Translated into English.”

Actually, they can be translated . . . but only with several English words. According to Jamie Frater, founder of the website, “hygge” means a “complete absence of anything annoying, irritating or emotionally overwhelming, and the presence of and pleasure from comforting, gentle and soothing things.” A “kyoikumama” (literally translated: “education mother”) means a mother who pushes her children too hard about schoolwork. And an “esprit d’escalier” (literally: “spirit of the staircase”) is that snappy comeback you think of once you’ve already left the scene.

Sharing such terms with our students is a great way to sensitize them to other cultures because such terms provide revealing glimpses into those cultures’ special values.

You may know of other expressions that have no real equivalent in English. Share them with your students (and with us!) and invite them to think of words that may be unique in their own language. It’s a fun way to enrich a lesson on cross-cultural communication.