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Improved US-Russia Cooperation—All Started with a Communication Faux Pas

December 15, 2009

Recent articles suggesting greater cooperation between the US and Russia on various issues like cyberspace security are a nice change in the frosty dialogue that has been status quo between the countries over the past decade or so Implausibly it was all started by a classic Communication blunder on the part of The State Department and Secretary Clinton. (See: http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=CNG.9ca28ad2530b0d0029e1304762eca18f.8c1&show_article=1).

Last March, in a Communication lesson straight from my book Lies, Bribes and Peril, Sec Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a box possessing a large red button and a Russian word thought to translate as “Restart.”  In a scene that couldn’t have been written better by one of the comedy news shows and is another real life parody off the web site www.engrish.com, Minister Lavrov pointed out the word in Russian actually said “Overcharged.” Sec Clinton attempted a weak joke about the faux pas, but then went to the real intent of the meeting. I think Minster Lavrov got a chuckle out of the mistake and no harm was done.  Why not? This situation should have been disastrous! As I point out quite simply in my book, most foreigners are usually pleased with the attempt, by anyone at any level, to communicate in their native tongue. The attempt is more important than being correct—even at a meeting this lofty.

The real point to drive home from this wacky situation (or “moment” as I say) “turn the ordinary into the bizarre”—and this kind of translation issue  is very, very common and occurs all the time. Here you have a situation where the entire State Department—I mean the whole damn thing is at Sec. Clinton’s disposal—got the word wrong!  Once more, the State Department’s sole purpose on this earth is: foreign relations –for gosh sakes!

Ok, the point here is not to embarrass, but more so to draw attention to the fact that, heck, if the State Department can get something like this wrong, a translated word involving a superpower, then the rest of us will make faux pas’ for sure.

I’ve had it happen many times all over the world–some hilarious, but some just as potentially devastating as this Restart situation.  It just flat-out happens all the time and ways how to best deal with and to realize when they  (there are a number of ways this ‘translation issue” can pop up) happen—are in my book.

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