Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A little more on culture

Last week my wife and I went cycling in the Loire valley in France and obviously, visited some castles. What else can you do out there, isn't it? Each castle has its way to represent its history. In one of them, plastic sheets were available for the visitors in each of the rooms. Several languages were provided, they included beside French, English, Italian, Spanish, German and a couple sheets in Dutch. I was actually quite impressed about the number of languages available and the effort the French owner had mad to translate the text. So, when I heard a couple Dutch speaking people complain about the fact there were not enough Dutch documents.

Later in the day, we were lunching in a lonely spot along the river when a group of Dutch speaking people choose a spot 50 cm from our place to have a noisy lunch with their family. Then it daunted on me. Despite the fact we are living within a distance of a couple hundred kilometers from each other, we have very different sensitivities. I IMG_2040 would have been pleasantly surprised to find a text in my language all together, and I try to respect people's intimacy. But that is probably not something I share with some Dutch at least.

Now, if we are already so different, while living so closely, what about the differences of sensitivities with people living on the other side of the planet.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Messieurs les Anglais, tirez les premiers....

No, you are not looking at the wrong blog. This title, that is well known in France, can freely be translated in "Mr. Englishmen, please shoot first...". It goes back to the time of the archeries.

Now, why use this as a title. Well to highlight another aspect of global collaboration. English is the only language that is spoken more by non native speakers than by native speakers. It is actually a very rich language which has a lot of nuances. Listening to British humor is one of the best ways to experience that. Unfortunately, most of the non native speakers do not know these nuances and will make mistakes all the time. Messieurs les Anglais, keep that into account and do not get upset when you hear something that may sound rudeIMG_0072_edited-1 .

I remember, years ago, I was responsible for the beta test of a product that my company was going to sell. We tested the product with a local company in Belgium. The development team, based in the US, was asking for our feedback. And we gave them feedback:

  • You must include this function
  • You must change the human interface in this way
  • You must interface with this device

You probably already realize what happened. We completely pissed of the development team. When I went to visit them, they beat me up. You cannot tell us what we have to do. We should have used other words. We did not realize that the word "must" has a much harder meaning in English than in Dutch or French.

My request is actually pretty simple. Keep in mind that not everybody you talk to is as fluent as you are in English. It may avoid a lot of bad feelings.