Really two countries

Learning from receiptsThis receipt is from a French sporting goods chain store in my sister’s town. The entire receipt is in Dutch (Flemish), except for the descriptive slogan.

Belgium is divided into French- and Flemish-speaking parts. They don’t get along very well, in general. Both parts are very mono-lingual, as far as things like signage and available printed materials.

This is interesting to me, in light of Canada’s very bilingual packaging and signage, in spite of the relatively small portion of French-speaking people. And most all packaging in Switzerland has their four major languages on it.

Culture and politics do affect communication.


Let her sleep

I have a story for you.

When Heather and I first went to Africa (1991), we were part of a 3-month-long training program that was designed to help us love Africa. And adjust to living there. Part of our training involved living with a family in rural Kenya for two weeks.

It was a stretching time, to say the least. We still keep in touch with one of the family members – which shows you it was a good experience, overall.

Anyhow, they ate dinner starting at about 9 pm. We were pretty tired by that time of the day, and listening to lively conversation in Kikamba (their language) for several hours was not always our choice of a relaxing way to end the day.

So one night – about halfway into our two weeks with them – just before dinner, Heather and I were chilling in our small room. Our guest knocked on the door to say it was dinnertime. I went to dinner alone. I said, “In our culture, it is wrong to wake someone when they are sleeping.” They bought it – after a little discussion on my part.

I knew she needed a break.


Ignorance is bliss

This sign appears next to escalators in the Hong Kong Airport.

What they meant was, “Make sure that you help children and elderly people navigate this escalator safely.” (True, my long version would not work in that space.) However, the translator’s lack of knowledge of the finer points of English may have been a good thing. Perhaps this sign caused a few English mother-tongue speakers to increase their caring for the children and elderly with them.


Language is important

You know that.

But I’m reminding you. Visiting another country, where your language is not the primary language, is a good way to remember that language is important.

In Malaysia, Bahasa Malay is the main language. English is very common, but Bahasa is the preferred way of communicating.

“Easy” is a campaign or product for one of the banks there. I had to ask a local what the billboard (and storefronts) were advertising. The non-verbal cues were not enough for me to figure it out. (Apparently, it’s a form of quick banking.)

Interestingly, in Kuala Lumpur, some advertising is in English, and some is in Bahasa. I guess it depends on the target audience.



I bought a fancy Japanese umbrella by Mont Bell.

Fabric? Polkatex! I love the name – it brings a smile to my face. However, it might not communicate “strong waterproof fabric” in America like it might in Japan.

Sadly, when the user opens the umbrella, each strut has to be snapped into place – a small hassle. But it’s comforting to know that the waterproofing will last a long time!


Forever changed

“Wananchi” is the Swahili word for “people”. We lived in Kenya for five years. I heard “wananchi” a lot. (Generally, in African cultures, the whole is more important than the individual – the opposite of in Europe and America. Again – generally speaking.)

So whenever I see “Wanchai”, my brain converts it to “wananchi”. Our time in Kenya forever changed us, and this is just a small example.


Bank holiday

bank-holidayToday is a bank holiday in America – Memorial Day. I’ll let others write about its significance.

A national holiday in the UK, is referred to as a “bank holiday”. In the US, it’s “national holiday”. A break from work of several days in the UK is a “holiday”. In the US, it’s “vacation”.

Whichever the case for you, I hope you enjoy this day!


Plain language

algo-v-formulaThere is tension. A friend strongly advocates the use of plain language in communicating. I tend to agree. In fact, there is a whole movement around this idea.

When I’m writing for this blog or for work, I always try to use words that communicate the most simply. Why use flowery words when plain words will communicate faster?

Heather and I received ballots from our local government for a small election issue. The ballot was worded by lawyers (who are not known for plain language). It was not understandable by either of us. (Heather has a master’s degree, and I have completed three courses towards one, so we’re not dumb.)

Back to the tension… my sister Sharon says that this movement is “dumbing down” America. Her profession lies in the health care field, and she feels many important details are lost when problems are explained to patients. This is true in many other professional realms.

Which side do you fall on?