January 7, 2008

Your words or mine?

I had a wander on the "expats in Italy" website forum (under culture shock) and found this thread:

I work in IT, and spend my days getting to grip with abstract concepts - real brain stretching stuff.
My Italian is good enough that language is rarely a problem, but what I have noticed is that it's much easier to understand a new concept when someone American, British etc. explains it to me.
Is it merely a difference in the way we think, or are Italians bad at explaining things?

The discussion was lively and interesting.

Language is not just a string of words, there is a cultural director orchestrating their ensemble. People living in English-speaking cultures are generally direct in the way they communicate, and it shows in the language itself -- anyone who has ever translated will confirm. English-speaking cultures have low-context communication styles -- you get what you hear, no interpreting the pauses and guessing at the what was left unsaid. The Italians instead, love the show and emphasize the musical component. The overall emotional message takes the stage -- the detail of the words is left to the orchestra pit.

I attended a Professional Women's Association meeting a few months back to hear a speaker from Johnson & Johnson on global virtual teams. Among the women, there were three Italian men who sat in the third row, very poshly dressed, chatting among themselves until the German woman in front of me turned and loudly gave them a "SHHHHH". Anyway, I spoke with Mauro at the post-speaker aperativo and he gave me his card, "dirigente" it said, for the Centro di Formazione Studi. I looked at the Italian site and then clicked on the EU international site. You must do the same, because someone was doing his/her homework and translated not only the words, but the presentation format. Gotta love those bullet points and action verbs!

Italian version of "chi siamo"
English version, "about us".

Tell me what you think.

a domani,


Anonymous said...

wow- applause to that translator. he/she managed to toss lots of the unnecessary wordiness (unnecessary for me & my american mind!).
It's so interesting how wordiness is such a prized quality in all sectors of life in Italy whereas in USA, it's not.
prefect example: CV/resume. Rule number one when i was in college was it should NEVER be more than a page unless you were some sort of accomplished writer/artist. In Italy- the longer and more long-winded it is, the more they like it.
I once applied for a VERY specific job and gave them my job-specific resume (you know, it says "related work experience" up top) and the boss was so confused about my choice to omit other irrelevant jobs from my resume.... (i did get the job though)

different strokes!

Elizabeth Abbot said...

great comment! CVs show lots of cultural differences between the lines. I love the fact that Italian CVs are (or were ten years ago at least) organized in cronological order, starting at the beginning, instead of the end, in line with the cultural emphasis on history and the past instead of the present to the future. Nowadays, Resume writing is taking on an anglo-saxon turn, but it is an acquired, not natural approach.

gillian said...

wow indeed! have been thinking about a similar thing (how information is displayed) recently watching the italian news...in the US it's all visuals and graphics and that infernal crawl...you almost dont have to listen...by contrast the italian news may have a one line sentence in the crawl about the current story...and very little visually...it's all about the words...