Monday, December 12, 2005

Lost in translation

The Wall Street Journal has a long and funny article about the utter confusion in China about the word 'stakeholder'. As in 'China needs to become a responsible stakeholder in the international community'. Since this has become official US foreign policy, American diplomats like to use the phrase.

This reminds me of the problems you have as an honest Direct Marketer in China. There is no word for 'Direct Marketing' in China. The closest translation is 'Direct Selling', which was forbidden by law until quite recently. It's one of those situations where understanding the language is not enough - you have to understand cultural aspects as well. American diplomats should know better, as understanding cultural aspects is typically part of a diplomat's job description.

Unfortunately US diplomats seem to master only one language these days: Business School English (BS English). The fact that American diplomats and politicians these days only speak about stakeholders, efficiency, accountability and delivering results is becoming a form of cultural poverty. Even my favourite publication the Economist writes about the need to reform Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine. Reform? It's a shrine, for Pete's sake, not a pension system! Dwarves and gnomes these people are, trying to do the fashionable thing and come across as businessmen, rather than leaders or visionaries.

For shock treatment I recommend reading the American Declaration of Independence. During the past centuries, our standard of living has improved. Business has improved since those days, but politician apparently have not.

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