The festive season is just over and most of us will have enjoyed sharing a cracker while gathered around the Christmas table, looked for the paper crown and maybe moaned about the useless presents found inside. Although this is very familiar to most people in the UK (and now even to me), the first time I heard people talking about crackers I was a bit confused. In British minds, a cracker resembles more or less this:

Whereas for us Italians ‘i cracker’ are something completely different:

I think you would probably call them biscuits for cheese. In Italy, British crackers simply do not exist, and I first discovered them when I came to the UK.

So, what does this tell us? That knowing a language is not enough, there are several aspects surrounding it and one of these is cultural awareness. You need to know not only the language of a country, but also its culture. As an example, English is spoken both in Ireland and Australia, but this does not make those cultures the same. Cultural knowledge is essential in providing the very best translation services, as has been discussed before.

What can you do to increase your cultural awareness and ability to provide accurate and relevant translation services? Well, first of all, try to visit that country. I had been studying English for years when I first came to the UK, and I did not have the faintest idea about what crackers, scones (and clotted cream since I was in Devon), and so on were. Secondly, be curious! Don’t just pass by what you see and hear, but try to understand what it is and why it is. Thirdly, you can also get to know the culture of a country from a distance: read local newspapers to find out what is going on there (and maybe make some notes as I suggested in another article), and what are popular topics for small talk while waiting for the bus to come. Also, you can watch television programmes in that language and find out what TV series are (or were) popular. The first time I came here Monty Python did not mean anything at all to me!

On the other hand, we should also understand people from other countries who sometimes behave in what we would call ‘a strange way’, because they follow their customs and stick to their dress code. This knowledge is vital for both interpreting and translation services, as it determines the relationships you can have with clients.

And now… do you have any funny stories about cultural awareness epiphanies you want to share with us? Here is another one from me, just before leaving: a friend of mine was once praising pineapple as the best toppings for pizza. I just made sure she knew that in Italy pineapple on pizza would be seen as culinary heresy, whereas she thought that we had invented it… Maybe I had just saved her from the anger of an outraged restaurant owner!

To find out how Lingua Translations can be of service to you, have a look at our translation services page.