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Make cross-cultural communication easier by being accurate

A misunderstanding in cross-cultural communication left me hungry when I recently spent time in Wolfsburg, Germany, where they make Volkswagens.

Avoiding mistakes in time telling

I went down at 10am for breakfast but found that everyone had packed up. Breakfast was over.

I knew for a fact that I heard the hotel’s receptionist say that breakfast was from “8:30 to 10:30”.

So how come reality did not play out as such?

As I learned, in German, if you said “halb acht“, you’re literally saying “half eight” but what it really means is “half-past seven” or 7:30am. Germans use the 24-hour clock so you can be sure it’s 7:30am.

This taught me a lesson.

If you want to avoid miscommunication between cultures, languages and fluency level, say the time as directly as possible. If you’re like me and have clients from different locales, it’s important to communicate clearly.

For one, I overwhelmingly prefer to say the time in its most direct form. I never say “let’s meet 10 minutes to eight”. I just say “7:50am”.

There’s much less confusion if you have included the hour, minutes and am/pm.

Avoid using “out of” if there’s an alternative

Over the years, I have heard the phrase “out of” used in many ways.

I concluded that “out of” can mean so many things that it’s better to avoid using it if a reasonable alternative exists.

This is especially so if the person you’re communicating with isn’t very good at the nuances in English. Here’s why:

A colleague once said to me, “He works out of the office.”

I had to ask for clarification because this can mean a few things:

  • He doesn’t work in the office; he works outdoors
  • He works in the office
  • He works from home

The shocking thing here is that “out of”, in this case, meant working “in” the office.

“Out of” can mean multiple things. In addition to “in”, it can mean “from”, as in “eating out of the jar”.

Here are some alternatives:

I’m going to be out of office ➜ I’m not going to be in the office

I’m eating out of the jar ➜ I’m eating from the jar

He works out of the office ➜ He works in the office

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