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Language and Culture

Language is one of the tools we use to create meaning. We form ideas through words, which sometimes even make it easy for us to quickly lay down the foundation for deeper intentions.

When you work in a global company, learning some words and phrases in others’ languages can assist in improving your communication with colleagues and customers around the world. Attempting to use even just a few words in their language may help you:

  • Break the ice
  • Better understand the local culture
  • Be respected by people
  • Build relationships and even trust

Word usage creates unique expressions and sayings in different languages. Here are a few examples for you to observe:

No.

Language

Word/Phrase

Meaning

Example

1

Italian

Dolce far niente

It’s sweet doing nothing

Enjoying life without any worry or activity.

2

German

Passt schon

Not 100% but acceptable, good enough

It’s okay, we got approval for the project.

3

Hebrew

Tachless

Bottom line; brass tacks

Tachless, what’s the plan?

4

French

Pédaler dans la choucroute 

Pedaling in sauerkraut; not getting anywhere

There is no point in working the way you do.

5

Arabic

تفطر مع البصل

Breaking your fast with an onion

It’s hard expecting more and getting less.

6

Polish

Musztarda po obiedzie

Mustard after lunch; missing the boat

No point to make changes; I already submitted the report.

7

Hebrew

Balagan

A mess

There’s more balagan in that company than in my kitchen…

8

Czech

Chodit kolem horké kaše 

Walk around in hot porridge

Stop beating around the bush.

9

Italian

A pagar e morire c’è sempre tempo

There’s always time to pay and to die

Don’t be in such a hurry to pay.

10

Japanese

花より団子 (Hana Yori Dango)

Dumplings instead of flowers

Choose useful items over pretty ones.

So how do languages shape the way we think and affect our perception?

Consider the above table again; what cultural characteristics might be understood from the words and expressions? Are they a reliable indicator of how the language speakers behave?

Does “dolce far niente; it’s sweet doing nothing” imply that many Italians don’t work very hard, or prefer not to? Do you think that’s true and an inseparable part of their culture?

And what about the Israelis? Do they tend to be more practical and less detail-oriented when doing business? More “tachless” and bottom line? For instance, do you find that long e-mails with a great deal of information and multiple questions often go unanswered?

Are Germans as precise as their reputation might indicate? Is accuracy the most valuable thing for them? If so, why would they have a common saying like “passt schon,” meaning not perfect but acceptable? Does this make you think more openly?

Although there is much more to cultural differences than where people come from or the language they speak, language is still a big part of every culture, and we can all learn so much from it. Of course, we should be careful with generalizations, mainly with stereotypes and bias. Still, learning some words and expressions from other cultures will help you better understand yourself and people you work with and for.

When we want to improve discussions across cultures, it is essential to remember that roughly 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? That’s a tower of cultural differences to celebrate. Learning and attempting to use different words and sayings, even if you get the pronunciation wrong, is an excellent opportunity for making small talk, expanding your cultural competence and building trust with your colleagues and customers around the globe. Enjoy!

 

OLM Consulting Founder

Osnat Lautman is a well-known intercultural expert and the author of the Amazon bestselling book ‘Israeli Business Culture’. Osnat is passionate about cultures, connecting humans and breaking through culture barriers. She created the ISRAELI™ model of Israeli business characteristics (Informal, Straightforward, Risk-Taking, Ambitious, Entrepreneurial, Loud, Improvisational) to reveal the foundations of the Israeli innovative culture. Osnat supports many organizations and individuals to effectively connect and engage with Israelis, avoid misunderstanding and maximize the value of combining the innovative Israeli spirit into a multi culture environment.

Osnat is the founder of OLM Consulting and her customer include the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel, The Jewish Agency, Verint, NYU Tel Aviv, the British Embassy, the Swedish Embassy, the Belgium Embassy, FIDF, Israel Defense Ministry delegation in New York, JCC Association, National Bank of Australia, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 888 Holdings, Corning, SkyVision, ObserveIT, MX1, Israel Export Institute, StartApp, Tel Aviv Municipality, and many others.

Osnat lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, from 2009 to 2013. During this time, she started her extensive research on the differences between Israeli and non-Israeli business cultures, including video interviews with businesspeople from numerous origins. The recorded discussions are incorporated into her lectures and workshops for demonstration purposes.

Osnat holds:
M.A in Social Science and Communications, Bar Ilan University, Israel
Certificate in Organizational Development, New York University, New York
Coach License from Co-Active Training Institute, Israel

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