Despite the globalisation of practically everything, including veganism, there is still a great cultural diversity that we should strive to keep as alive as possible.
In my work as a French vegan translator, I clearly see cultural differences among the 3 cultural backgrounds I work in: English-speaking countries, Italy and French-speaking countries (especially France, my home country).
Here are a few examples of what I see daily, along with tips on how to avoid the usual pitfalls of content localisation (i.e. translation for a specific market).
I recently spoke about it in one of my Instagram’s post [link] on Mother’s Day.
Indeed, some celebration days depend on the country’s cultural background: for instance, Father’s Day in Italy is celebrated on St Joseph’s day (the 19th March), because the country’s links with the Catholic religion are still strong.
Tip - Do not forget to do some research: indeed, it would be ill-perceived if you sent a promotional newsletter for Father’s Day on the 21th June to your Italian clients.
The Northern and Southern Hemispheres
Another no-no would be to target your Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere markets in the same way. For instance, I have recently seen on a social media a brand stating “Colder days ahead! 🥶”. In the Southern Hemisphere for sure, but not in the Northern Hemisphere.
The colours’ meanings
Colours are like flowers: each colour can have a specific signification, which can change according to the culture. For example, on stage, some colours would bring bad luck: green in France, blue in the U.K. and purple in Italy.
Tip - Be careful when you post pictures, especially if there are colours/symbols that can be offensive. For instance, the swastika symbol will be seen as offending in Europe (especially in Germany, of course), while, for instance, it has positive connotations in Asia (it represents the God Ganesh in Hinduism, eternity in China or dharma in Jainism).
Within French-speaking countries
This is where it gets tricky for us translators! I was born and currently live in France, so I have a good knowledge of its culture. But when my clients need it, I can also translate for other French-speaking countries: Luxemburg, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, and so on.
When it occurs, I have to watch out for references that could lead to a misunderstanding according to the target country. As with cultural differences between countries, differences between French-speaking countries (and actually in every same-language countries) are numerous and need to be carefully taken into account.
Tone of voice
As mentioned in a previous article, you will address your clients differently according to the language involved. In English, we can only use the “you” pronoun, which makes it easier.
In Italy, you can address your clients with the second person “tu” (informal) or the third person “lei” (formal). Instead of “lei”, we can also encounter the formal “voi” (which corresponds to the second plural person). But in the end, the Italians are usually rather informal and use “tu”.
We can’t say the same for France: using the informal “tu” can be seen has a. speaking to children or b. being (too) familiar. So my advice would be to use “vous” (the second plural person) when addressing your French clients.
Cultural references can be easily understood in one country, and nonsensical in another (even in same-language countries). And I don’t even mention the differences within a country! In France, there has been for a while a stormy debate between the use of “pain au chocolat” or “chocolatine”. Another example: a French person going to Quebec will have trouble understanding many words, such as “boîte à malle” (mailbox, in American English), which is called “boîte aux lettres” in France.
When cultural differences are an asset
According to the context, you can use a culture difference to attract your prospect.
Let’s say you evolve in the tourist industry: when writing a copy (in any language), using touches of foreign words can make your prospects dream – and buy. For instance, when translating about Italy, I would keep words like “osteria”, which would appeal the reader.
Numbers are written differently according to the language.
In English, a period is used to indicate a decimal point and a comma after every three digits (e.g. 1,234,567.89).
In Italy, it’s the contrary: a period is used after every three digits (and sometimes a space) and a comma indicates a decimal point (e.g. 1.234.567,89)
Finally, in French, we use unbreakable spaces instead of the comma, and a comma to indicate a decimal point (e.g. 1 234 567,89).
If you’re not in the Euro Zone, you will need to deal with prices and the currency exchange rate. I must mention this is not usually part of a translator’s job. If you need your translator to take care of it, you will need to provide them with the tools needed to convert the numbers.
Tip - You can use a plugin on your website that will automatically convert currencies (check this with your webmaster).
Hours (12-hour or 24-hour)
A majority of countries use the 24-hour clock, but some don’t, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or the U.K. and the U.S. For a seamless localisation, it is best to tell your translator in which country the target audience is.
Now, let’s talk seriously 😉 When travelling, I have noticed some differences, sometimes in hotels but mostly in restaurants. There is one that particularly stroke me: vegan o not, nobody eats at the same time!
In France, we “usually” have lunch at noon, and dinner at 8 p.m. In Italy, the lunch break is mostly at 1 p.m. and then dinner is at 8 p.m. This also changes in English-speaking languages.
In the U.K., lunch time is usually between 12 and 1.30 p.m., while dinner is eaten between 6.30 and 8 p.m. By the way, if you use the breakfast/dinner/tea designations, let your translator know! This will avoid confusions. It is quite the same in the U.S.: people can lunch between 12 and 2 p.m., and dinner between 6 and 8 p.m.
In France, we can be seen as very welcoming: indeed, even if we have just met the other person, we kiss on both cheeks*.
In Italy, when you meet a person for the first time, you shake hands. It’s only on future occasions that you will give the other a kiss.
With British and American people, we shake hands only the first time we meet, and we never give them a kiss.
* I don’t want to offend my compatriots so I’ll specify: it actually depends on the region you’re in. It can be one kiss on a cheek, two kisses (one on each cheek), and even three kisses (one check after the other).
The final say
When writing this article, I felt like I could have kept going for a while. Between all the differences from a culture to another, and the differences existing within all the countries speaking the languages I know about – French, English and Italian – I could almost write a thesis!
Now it’s your turn: what are your own cultural traditions in your country? Have you noticed differences abroad? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line! 🌱😊