Thursday, January 31, 2008

Culturally Inept Business Cards

I don't mean to be unkind, but I have just finished checking business cards for a few people working at a local government department who would not listen to common sense. So they had the phone numbers left in Arabic script (which is the script we use in the West, just to make things more confusing) instead of having them transliterated into Hindi numerals, while translating their addresses into Arabic.

I assume that the Arab clients who will want to do business with them by mail will write the address on the envelope in Arabic, and our posties - who speak Aussie, not even English - will be able to decipher the squiggles and deliver them to the nominated offices.

Where does my state government get their cultural consultants from? I'll tell you: Hon. Minister is going on a trip to petro-country, and needs to have his cards translated. He asks around what language the "petro-countrymen" use and is told by a blondie secretary who Googles it that it is "Arabian" (we had someone assure us that Yugoslavs speak Yugoslavian, so what the heck). So he tells her to find an Arabian agency whatever to do it. "Do it" not "translate it", mind you. She phones down the ladder until the buck stops at the new recruit straight out of the mind-boggling achievement of having passed Year 12 plus the Public Service Test (i.e. she/he knows who Brad Pitt is), who grabs the yellow pages, phones around with the question "Can you do our Business Cards into Arabian?" and finally lands an agency.

The agent, a bit more knowledgeable but not "Arabian" speaking, gets the cards and finds a translator. The job gets done properly, with addresses left in English. Then the cards get sent to the department's "cultural consultant" - a "new Aussie" from back home who, since he is working for the public service, must be on the lower rungs of IQ, otherwise he would be managing his own business (like me). The question posed to him is "Has everything been translated?" Of course not, and being given the BIG job of holding a red pen, he promptly rewrites the address in Arabic, not thinking why it is there in English in the first place. Not to be outdone, the Minister's secretary who needs to boost her ego gives one cursory look at the card and unable to understand ANYTHING says, "Geez, where are the phone numbers? Leave them in English so we know how to ring them over there.." or something that is meant to be as witty.

Back to the agent, back to the translator, who explains why the address needs to be in English. But to no avail. The agent who explains it back to the Blondie has an accent and she is accent-deaf with the attitude of "whatever".

And we end up with the bewildered postie stamping "Address illegible" on some important documents which are probably worth a few million petro-dollars.


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