Cross-Cultural Blunders Have Consequences for Authors (Part 2)

Armed with cultural sensitivity and a global perspective, freelancers who produce informative and interesting articles will make sales in the international marketplace. Here are some tips that have helped me gain credibility with editors across the globe and make international sales.

            Gesture Judiciously – Writers are encouraged to describe gestures in personality profiles and fictional characterizations, but gestures don’t necessarily convey universal meanings. Thrusting the index and middle fingers upward in a V shape signifies an insult, victory, two or peace—the meaning depends on where thrusting occurs! Similarly, in some Asian countries a western-style goodbye wave means, please, come here. My buddies raise one hand and flap it side to side signifying something is so-so. The same wiggle in the East can mean no, no.

When gestures are important to a story, international freelancers include explanations that flow naturally. Illuminate body language using descriptions along the lines of “Making a circle with finger and thumb, the captain indicated that the trip was successful,” and “The driver crossed his forearms to form an X. The gesture meant the bus was broken.”

            Hold the Humor – Comedy, especially puns, double entendres, satire and allusions, can be risky. A Singaporean businessman reading an Australian writer’s editorial remained stone-faced when he came to the journalist’s supposedly humorous reference to Kerry Packer’s weight. Who’s Kerry Packer? What’s his weight got to do with anything? Trans-cultural humor requires intimate knowledge of psychology, zeitgeist, politics, history and language.

Getting laughs in the comedy-writing field is tricky even within one’s own culture. If a joke or amusing anecdote is integral to the manuscript’s purpose, recruit a local from the country whose ribs you hope to tickle (to use a cliché) to review the piece first. Rewrite accordingly.

Cite Specifics – In anticipation of a two-week holiday in England, a Bombay reader scanned a travel article written by a Brit. The reader’s wife, wanting to know what clothes to pack, asked, “How’s the weather this time of year?” Her husband replied, “This writer says England is ‘red hot.'” The woman packed lightweight clothing for the family. They shivered for a fortnight because London temperatures never rose above 20º C.

Like chameleons, adjectives change in relation to the environment. “Cold” to me is balmy to Koreans. “Spicy” to me is bland to Malaysians. “Conservative” for me is offensive to some Saudis.  Internationally published writers avoid relative words (hot, heavy, tiny, expensive, near) in favor of specific words (32º C, five tons, one centimeter, HKD$200,000, 150 meters).

            Learn the Lingo – Do Thais drive trucks or lorries? Do Vietnamese rent flats or apartments? Do Japanese assume a thong is a slipper, an undergarment or something else? Do Chinese diners ask for tomato sauce, catsup or ketchup when eating…um…chips, wedges or French fries? Find out.

In Ken’s War, a YA novel by B.K. Fowler, Ken finds his world is turned upside down when he is whisked off to Japan. Culture shock and teen hormones collide. The novel is slated for publication in 2014 by Melange Books LLC

article by Beth Fowler

article by Beth Fowler


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