Lost In Translation

I once worked for a guy, well technically I still do, we all do if you work for NIKE, who used to make the statement “let me be clear.” The delivery of the statement “let me be clear” usually came into play after and sometimes during a pitch or presentation where the presenter clearly misunderstood the assignment.

I never really adopted the line until I moved to China.

I haven’t learned to say it, I’ve learned to practice it.  I’ve learned to try to make my statements or requests as simple as possible, as clear as can be, said slowly and deliberately.

Let me give you a few examples.

When we go to one of our favorite places for breakfast, Baker and Spice, I’m now very clear on my order. The first two times, I stood at the counter and nicely asked for 2 eggs scrambled. When the food arrived at our table, I received 2 orders of the egg platter inclusive of bacon, toast and potatoes. Okay. I see how this works. I got exactly what they heard.

A friend of mine ordered a toasted bagel. When the food arrived she received toast and a bagel. Understandable. I can see where this request was lost in translation.

At work, we have a temp who is filling in for someone out on maternity leave. My mandarin is nonexistent and her english is scripted, memorized and limited. I asked her to complete an organization chart for me. I provided an emailed version of the template for her to complete. It took a couple days of me acting out my request and a significant amount of patience as her response to my “coaching” was “It’s okay” while she was rubbing my arm in comfort.

On day 3, of this back and forth, we finally had all the right boxes and names in place on the document but because it now included so many names, the font, or size of the print, was super small and almost unreadable. I asked her if she could make it bigger. She stated “It’s okay” and rubbed my arm.

That afternoon, she presented me with the largest piece of paper I’ve ever seen with the organization chart still the same size. The small chart with tiny, illegible, font was smack dab in the middle of the poster size paper. Exactly what I had asked for when acting out “can you make it bigger” while holding the 8.5×11 piece of paper.

I’m learning. I’m the one in a foreign land and I’m the one who doesn’t speak the language. I think I’ve slowed down my talking. I’ve back up conversations in meetings to make sure everyone is on board with the thinking and I’m trying to be a good coach all the while trying to be coachable. I did however, laugh out loud when at the grocery store Greg pointed out the misunderstanding of this American classic.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa. You get what you ask for.

4 thoughts on “Lost In Translation

  1. Margie Hunt says:

    Hi, Rosemary! I’ve not missed one of your posts and some days, it’s the most entertaining experience of the day! Loved this one – instructional even when we speak the SAME language. And continue to love your writing. All good here – just had our State Fall Games!

  2. Eric says:

    Love this one! Good to see you’re still laughing!

  3. loribrock says:

    Loved this. It must be so frustrating at times! Lori

  4. Jan St ClAir says:

    I’m laughing out loud as I read your blog!

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