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Poll: Have you ever advised anyone on how not to commit a cultural "faux pas"?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

Karin Usher
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:35
Member (2006)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
... could happen!! Very funny :-) Aug 4, 2009

Alexander Kondorsky wrote:

Maybe it is just a joke, but I heard that if you order a "bloody steak" in a British restaurant you risk being offered "f...king potatoes" for garnish)


 

Catherine Shepherd  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Two kisses - very uncomfortable!! Aug 4, 2009

rifkind wrote:

There are, to paraphrase Dr. Suess, the one kiss, two kiss, and three kiss varieties! You have copy the natives.


In Spain you greet everyone with two kisses, both for hello and goodbye, even if you are to see them again soon (I skip it with my friends because it gets little annoying!).

Well, 10 years ago I came over to the UK with my best friend. Here, a handshake, wave or nod is enough to say hello (of course accompanied by a "Pleased to meet you" or something similar!) when meeting someone new. We met an elderly woman on the street, whom I knew, and I introduced her to my friend. She was a short lady, and my friend automatically bent over and gave her two kisses. The poor woman was quite startled! Afterwards I obviously explained to my friend that she shouldn't do that again!

[Edited at 2009-08-04 15:24 GMT]


 

Andrew Levine  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:35
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
"Anglo-Saxon" Aug 4, 2009

I once had to ask a French acqaintance not to use the blanket-term "Anglo-Saxon" to refer to all native English-speaking people. At a dinner out in Paris she had told the Americans present at the table that something (I forget what) was "part of your shared Anglo-Saxon culture". The Americans in question were myself (grandson of Eastern European Jews), an African-American, and an Irish-American.

The girl of Irish descent was the only one of us three who did not speak French, and she
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I once had to ask a French acqaintance not to use the blanket-term "Anglo-Saxon" to refer to all native English-speaking people. At a dinner out in Paris she had told the Americans present at the table that something (I forget what) was "part of your shared Anglo-Saxon culture". The Americans in question were myself (grandson of Eastern European Jews), an African-American, and an Irish-American.

The girl of Irish descent was the only one of us three who did not speak French, and she lost her temper a bit (I know, I know! But she did) and lectured our puzzled French interlocutor on "No Irish Need Apply" and country clubs and Jim Crow. I had to step in to explain to our hostess the culturally exclusionist historical connotations of the word "Anglo-Saxon" and why American usage would not apply it to the three of us. She was a bit mortified by her error and apologized twice later for it!

To this day I get a little twinge of annoyance when I see the word "anglo-saxon" in French where the author means Anglophone or Anglo-American.
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Andrew Levine  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:35
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Similar situation: "Asiatics" Aug 4, 2009

I was once talking in English about growth in foreign markets with a French person who, in reference to people from Asia (not present), used the word "Asiatics". I stopped him and politely explained that this was a word that is considered dated and a bit offensive nowadays when applied to people, like "Negro" (the French word in common use is still "asiatiques"), though "Asiatic" is still used to refer to certain groups of languages.

He said he would say "Asians" or "Asian people" f
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I was once talking in English about growth in foreign markets with a French person who, in reference to people from Asia (not present), used the word "Asiatics". I stopped him and politely explained that this was a word that is considered dated and a bit offensive nowadays when applied to people, like "Negro" (the French word in common use is still "asiatiques"), though "Asiatic" is still used to refer to certain groups of languages.

He said he would say "Asians" or "Asian people" from then on, and clarified that he had heard Mr. Spock use "Asiatics" very recently on an old rerun of Star Trek and didn't know the word had taken on a demeaning connotation since the 1960's.

[Edited at 2009-08-04 16:01 GMT]
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Lorenia Rincon  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 11:35
English to Spanish
+ ...
I try to give advise to a restaurant to correct their menu... Aug 4, 2009

Unfortunately, they ignored me.. and their English breakfast menu offers: "coffee with sweetbreads", instead of coffee and pastries. I explained that "sweetbreads" is "mollejas de ternera" in Spanish the equivalent to the pancreas or thymus of a young calf or lamb that is prepared and served as food, and I am sure that most people do not crave "coffee with sweetbreads" for breakfast.

 

Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:35
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Goodbyes Aug 4, 2009

John Cutler wrote:

Whenever I have friends or family visiting me here in Spain, I make certain to let them know that pleases and thank yous are very nice, but in Spain it’s just as important to greet people and say your goodbyes.


Yes, I've noticed that Spaniards take their goodbyes very seriously, and it's often a struggle for Americans and Brits to remember. Some of it even seems counter-intuitive, like remembering to say "See you later" to shopkeepers you will never see again in your life. When friends from the U.S. go to Spain, I tell them that "Hasta luego" can also mean "Have a nice day" (as it's the functional equivalent).

One aspect of life in Spain that doesn't covered in cultural guidebooks is the etiquette about where and when to set down utensils in a restaurant, and what it means if you place the utensils in different positions.


 

Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 11:35
Spanish to English
I used to English as a Foreign Language Aug 4, 2009

In Dublin and a lot of my students were from Spain.

Us Irish love the words "please" and "thank you" so much that we can often use them five or six times in a small transaction, whereas "please" and "thank you" are not hugely significant in Spain.

It's a small thing but can make the Spanish appear rude and ungrateful in Irish eyes, so I did include it my English classes, making lots of fun of this national querk of ours.

And as for saying goodbye, here in
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In Dublin and a lot of my students were from Spain.

Us Irish love the words "please" and "thank you" so much that we can often use them five or six times in a small transaction, whereas "please" and "thank you" are not hugely significant in Spain.

It's a small thing but can make the Spanish appear rude and ungrateful in Irish eyes, so I did include it my English classes, making lots of fun of this national querk of ours.

And as for saying goodbye, here in Mexico you have to go around everyone in the room and kiss them goodbye. Sometimes I find it too much, but lots of times I really like it, it helps you to notice people more.
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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 12:35
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
My poor children are completely confused- Aug 4, 2009

They know (from when we are in Argentina) that kisses are given on arrival and departure to everyone within reach, whether you know them well or not. This does not go over so well in Toronto, where anything physical is construed as an abuse of personal space.
On the other hand, their constant "pleases" and "excuse mes" are a source of constant amusement when we're in Israel or Argentina.


 

Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Hand and head gestures, dangers for Spaniards abroad Aug 4, 2009

Along with the subjects already commented on above, when I am teaching English or preparing someone to travel to the UK or have meetings in English, I also warn them about the dangers of innapropriate gestures. Otherwise, the poor Spaniard will be counting emphatically, gets to number two and the British interlocutor gets alarmed ... I even find myself doing this and have to correct myself!

Among other gestures liable to give the wrong impression is the way many Spanish greet each o
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Along with the subjects already commented on above, when I am teaching English or preparing someone to travel to the UK or have meetings in English, I also warn them about the dangers of innapropriate gestures. Otherwise, the poor Spaniard will be counting emphatically, gets to number two and the British interlocutor gets alarmed ... I even find myself doing this and have to correct myself!

Among other gestures liable to give the wrong impression is the way many Spanish greet each other informally with an upward jerk of the head - have to explain clearly that this could be interpreted as "and who the h**l do you think you are?".

Or going tuhtuhtuh instead of saying no, no, no...

The pitfalls are many and they are not in the course books!
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Rebekka Groß (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:35
English to German
Guten Appetit Aug 4, 2009

I try teaching the Brits to say "Guten Appetit" or "Bon appétit" or something like that instead of just starting to eat though to no avail Even after living in the UK for almost 20 years, it still seems rude to me that they simply dig in. Mind you, there are a lot more pleases and thank yous and my folks back home always think it s funny when I ask in German "are you sure?" after they've declined an offer of more food, drink, etc.

 

Amy Duncan (X)  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:35
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Here are a couple from Brazil... Aug 4, 2009

Brazilians don't make a big deal out of saying "thank you" when you give them something, like a gift. I once gave a very expensive electric shower head to the parents of my nephew's Brazilian wife, and never heard a word from them. When I asked her about it, she said, "Oh, they LOVED it."

Also, one time my Brazilian son-in-law's sisters were visiting him and my daughter in New York. My daughter really went out of her way to do stuff for them, buying them gifts, paying for their meal
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Brazilians don't make a big deal out of saying "thank you" when you give them something, like a gift. I once gave a very expensive electric shower head to the parents of my nephew's Brazilian wife, and never heard a word from them. When I asked her about it, she said, "Oh, they LOVED it."

Also, one time my Brazilian son-in-law's sisters were visiting him and my daughter in New York. My daughter really went out of her way to do stuff for them, buying them gifts, paying for their meals, etc. and they never once said thank you. My daughter was so upset by this behavior that one day she burst into tears while they were having a meal at an outdoor restaurant. They were flabbergasted and couldn't imagine what was wrong. When my daughter explained it to them, they all jumped up and hugged her and thanked her over and over. From that day until they left, they thanked her for every little thing!

Another thing, Brazilians don't like confrontations or "speaking their minds," so we gringos have to do a little jig to get around that one, too.
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Mark Thompson  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:35
Member
Portuguese to English
The "V" sign Aug 4, 2009

A Brazilian friend was planning a trip to England and rehearsing how he would order drinks at the bar, something of a novelty for him.

He said, very well actually, "Two pints of lager please", but at the same time enthusiastically and smilingly stuck his two fingers up in front of my face (I was the barman).

After much hearty belly laughing I explained the implications of this and advised that perhaps it was best to reverse the fingers should such gesticulation be neces
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A Brazilian friend was planning a trip to England and rehearsing how he would order drinks at the bar, something of a novelty for him.

He said, very well actually, "Two pints of lager please", but at the same time enthusiastically and smilingly stuck his two fingers up in front of my face (I was the barman).

After much hearty belly laughing I explained the implications of this and advised that perhaps it was best to reverse the fingers should such gesticulation be necessary in a Liverpool city-centre pub.
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Mara Ballarini  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 03:35
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
I see you seeing me seeing you Aug 5, 2009

‘I see you seeing me seeing you.’
How do you think people see you as a nationality group?
What stereotypical ideas do you think people have about your nationality group?
How do you feel about these ideas?

It's the last question for discussion of my favourite lesson about "cultural differences", especially when I'm in Australia and I teach English to a multilingual class - you don't know how many things I've learnt from Japanese, Koreans, Swiss, Thai, etc etc et
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‘I see you seeing me seeing you.’
How do you think people see you as a nationality group?
What stereotypical ideas do you think people have about your nationality group?
How do you feel about these ideas?

It's the last question for discussion of my favourite lesson about "cultural differences", especially when I'm in Australia and I teach English to a multilingual class - you don't know how many things I've learnt from Japanese, Koreans, Swiss, Thai, etc etc etc... The thing they never understand when they first arrive in the country (OZ) is why everybody in the street asks them how they are, and then if they reply, they've gone, not really interested in how they really are... It got me, too, in the beginning...
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Heike Kurtz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:35
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Nazi terminology Aug 5, 2009

Inga Pier wrote:

Just the day before yesterday, a Croation friend asked another (Turkish) friend of mine in German, if he will be deported (German: deportiert), if he had no success with all the paperwork he needs to stay in germany. We then explained her that "deportieren" (to deport) was used for the jews being brought to the Ghettos in WWII and that this word still has a bad connotation.

I also was asked by a Chinese once if I was "Arier" just because I am blonde. I was shocked and a friend politely explained to him, that it is not as common to talk about races/ethnic groups in germany as it is in China.

Very interesting topic by the way


I agree wholeheartedly: I had to proofread a translation once that discussed managerial skills: the (British) company emphasised that they wanted "leaders" and that aspiring candidates had to be "selected". The dutch colleague who had done the translation had used the terms "Führer" and "selektieren"...

Now "Führer" in German ALWAYS refers to Adolf Hitler, while "selektieren" was what the SS did in concentration camps when new trains with prisoners arrived ("one for the gas chamber, one for the workcamp...). Certainly NOT a terminology to be applied in the given context... gave me the creeps to just read it, let alone think about it.

I think many foreigners - especially from the USA - seem to be unaware that any reference to Nazi subjects is quite problematic in Germany. The use of each and every Nazi symbol is forbidden here and Germans are very sensitive about the topic. The Nazi salute - even if executed as a joke - can result in a date with the police here.


 

Heike Kurtz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:35
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
??? Aug 5, 2009

Steven Capsuto wrote:

One aspect of life in Spain that doesn't covered in cultural guidebooks is the etiquette about where and when to set down utensils in a restaurant, and what it means if you place the utensils in different positions.


Please elaborate!


 
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Poll: Have you ever advised anyone on how not to commit a cultural "faux pas"?

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