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Your Circus, Your Monkeys

23rd October 2019

One of the key benefits a service partner can offer is the assurance that your problems are their problems.


Are you feeding your donkey sponge cake?

Are you letting frogs out of your mouth?

Providing a language service isn’t just a matter of translating words on a page. It’s a matter of establishing intentions and conveying them, sometimes in language far removed from the original text.

In Portugal, the phrase “to feed the donkey sponge cake” (alimentar um burro a pão-de-ló) refers to an elaborate treatment being given to a person who doesn’t need it.

In Finland, “to let a frog out of your mouth” (päästää sammakko suusta) is to say something inappropriate, a pitfall that translators and interpreters all over the world will be all too familiar with.

In Poland, “not my circus, not my monkeys” (nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy) is an inventive way of telling someone “this is your problem, not mine.”

And that brings us to an important point about service providers; their definition of service. When companies map out an export strategy, word-for-word translation doesn't get the job done. One of the key benefits a partner can offer is the assurance that your problems are their problems. The assurance that they’ll help you overcome whatever linguistic and cultural barriers stand in your way and commit themselves to your projects as fully as members of your own team.

Many companies make good use of abstract language in their corporate brochures and marketing material. Failing to convey the spirit of these messages, or worse making them nonsensical, could hardly be more counter-productive. It’s fun to laugh at hypothetical examples, but in practice none of us wants to be the butt of the joke. And when it comes to design ideas, even the simplest images can backfire.

A friend of mine was recently reminded of the cultural pitfalls exporters and travellers face. In many countries, showing five spread fingers with the palm facing out would be unlikely to provoke hostility. In Greece, though, it would cause deep offence. Greek people refer to the gesture as “moutza”. It dates back to Byzantine times when prisoners were paraded with their faces covered in dirt applied with their own palms. Today it remains a common insult for Greek people. It’s one of many cultural traps that the novice may not be aware of, but the right service partner will steer you safely clear of every time.

I believe professional sales can be summed up as helping people to buy something they want. And in the same spirit, professional service can be summed up as helping a partner get where they want to go. Taking ownership of a problem, taking responsibility for its resolution and taking pride in that partner’s success.

It may be your circus. They may be your monkeys. But it’s our problem.

And we’ll solve it.


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