"" Welcome to my thoughts: BUSINESS TRAVEL; On Keeping Your Foot Safely Out of Your Mouth

Friday, April 3, 2009

BUSINESS TRAVEL; On Keeping Your Foot Safely Out of Your Mouth

Joe Romano found out on a business trip to Taiwan how close a one-syllable slip of the tongue can come to torpedoing a deal.

Mr. Romano, a partner of High Ground Inc., an emerging technology-marketing company in Boston, has been traveling to Asia for 10 years and speaks fluent Mandarin and Taiwanese. Or so he thought, until he nearly blew an important deal when he met the chief executive of a major Taiwanese manufacturer.

''You're supposed to say 'Au-ban,' which means basically, 'Hello, No.1 Boss,''' Mr. Romano explained. ''But being nervous, I slipped and said 'Lau-ban ya,' which means, 'Hello, wife of the boss.'

''So I basically called him a woman in front of 20 senior Taiwanese executives, who all laughed,'' he said. ''He looked at me like he was going to kill me because in Asia, guys are hung up on being seen as very manly. I had to keep asking them to forgive 'the stupid American' before the C.E.O. would accept my apologies.''

This is why translators are worth the investment for delicate business negotiations overseas, suggests Heike Estey, who leads cultural-sensitivity training as director of sales for Express Visa Service in Washington enjoy reading..