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culture

Why alienate your audience?

I have just finished reading a book my daughter has read a few times. I was actually keen for her to read books by this author as she is Australian, writes about the meeting of cultures and seems to give a positive outlook to teenagers.

Now, I’m not so keen.

I actually found parts of this book (and admittedly it was her first) unsettling – and I’m unlikely to read another. by this author.

Writing about Melbourne

Australia has it's own culture

Australia has it’s own culture and terminology

The book is clearly set in Melbourne – the characters live in Camberwell, eat Vegemite, visit Lygon St for pizza and gelati, Acland St for cakes and belong to the Debating Association of Victoria (DAV). All those details are named and a theme of the book is a girl finding her identity as a ‘hyphenated Australian’.

So why does she ‘catch a streetcar’ to a ‘mall’ with her ‘mom’  wearing ‘flipflops’ or discuss clothing choices for a 58 degree day or ‘keep to the right’ when skating at St Kilda beach?

I’ve never caught a streetcar or worn flip flops in my life, but have been in many Melbourne trams and often worn thongs. Australia is metric so her 58 degrees farenheit would be known as 14 degrees (ah, now her comments about the girl being under-dressed make sense!) and if you stick to the right on our roads and paths you’re likely to get arrested if not killed!

Consider your audience

I often read books that were written for other countries, including the USA. I mentally ‘translate’ them into my experiences. So someone is facing a difficult left hand turn in the book and I picture it as a right hand turn to understand the context. I read ‘mom’ as ‘mum’, ‘color’ as ‘colour’ and struggle over imperial references.

That’s okay when I’m reading an American book.

I resent it in an Australian book.

If you are sharing an Australian experience with readers, make it authentically Australian by using Australian terminology and spelling. To do otherwise alienates your Australian audience.

Maybe her purpose was to write for the American audience because it is larger. Then why make it so clearly about Australia? Why insult Americans to say they can’t read a book and ‘translate’ terms into their context?

In a book trying to show how cultures are different but can co-exist, I found it uncomfortable that she didn’t stay with the Australian culture. It felt hypocritical. And that she was demeaning Australian culture.

Back to business…

You may not be writing books about cultural clashes, or even in a business that has much cultural diversity to deal with, but the point is the same.

It’s important to know your voice and stick to it.

To know your audience and understand it – not just what they can understand but what could be insulting or offensive.

To really think about what you are communicating between the lines.

To realise that the USA is not the world and that it’s ok to do things in a locally appropriate way instead of copying the American way by default.

Business card etiquette

Earlier this month I wrote about one aspect of business card etiquette (i.e. not just giving cards out to people at random), but there are other aspects to this etiquette.

I came across a blog post that discusses how different cultures have different expectations about how business cards should be given/received. It is interesting to note these differences and I think it is respectful to use these different ideas when dealing with international people.

However, I think many of those differences can be used routinely in Australia, too.

For instance, in Japan it is considered rude to give a card with one hand – they pass it over with both hands and presented in a way that the other person can read the card as it is given; the other person then carefully takes the card, reads it and gently places it in a pocket. Ok, giving a card in two hands and bowing may raise some eyebrows between two Aussies, but but why not show respect and read someone’s card as they hand it to you? Why not make sure your card is the right way up when you pass it to someone? And I think etiquette in any language is to place the card carefully somewhere once you have it – don’t shove it in somewhere or screw it up/fold it/whatever.

I also thought it interesting to note that a multi-lingual card (or different cards in various languages) is almost a must in some cultures. Personally, I only deal with English speaking cultures (because there’s no way I could write professionally in another language!) so an English card is sufficient, but I see the value in using another language on the reverse of my card if I was to frequently deal with people in that culture. It shows respect but also makes it easier for them to understand who I am and how I can help them.

Do you have separate cards or techniques for dealing with international business dealings?

Happy writing!