Words from the Wardrobe
Traditions lost in translation

Traditions lost in translation can compromise your brand

Happy Thanksgiving!


Summer’s long over, but I’m still fondly reminiscing about those siestas in the hammock in the patio after lunch. A blissful moment of peace and quiet that’s only disturbed by a mosquito buzzing around you, about to savour your delicious blood.

Although it may seem like it, I am not going to talk about borrowed foreign terms today.

I want to talk about borrowed cultures that are ever more present in our lives. This may be due to globalisation, consumerism or simply because of the huge influence from (mainly) American films and series that we watch in Spain and Latin America.

Now it’s November, we know that Christmas is just around the corner. On one hand, because the supermarkets put it on themselves to make sure you realise, and on the other, because more and more companies are adopting the Black Friday campaign, which kicks off the Christmas shopping season.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving.

Do we know what Thanksgiving is?

I am sure you have seen it in loads of films, but this post you will give you more information about Thanksgiving, which is mainly celebrated in the United States and Canada.

When we import customs from other countries, we can end up in a muddle and our brand could be affected by this.

This happened to a Spanish client that I worked with translating the content for their website and social media accounts.

One of their blogposts talked about Thanksgiving and how it was a Christmas tradition celebrated in December.

If you’ve looked at the link that I added a little further above, you’ll have seen that Thanksgiving is the last Thursday in November and it is not related to Christmas at all.

During the translation process, we look for equivalents between the source and target cultures. We do this with idioms and set phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs”, which is usually translated as “está lloviendo a cántaros” (which would literally mean “it’s raining jugs”). We can also do this when we’re talking about traditions that take place on the same date, such as Halloween in the United States and All Saints’ Day in Spain or Día de muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico.

What happens when there is no equivalent in the target culture?

Firstly, we need to think if the cultural element is pivotal to our message. Does it make any sense for our audience to celebrate traditions that are completely irrelevant in their country?

Finding out about traditions from other countries can be interesting even if there is no need to celebrate them in our country. That’s fine with me, but if we are going to talk about them, we should really do our research, because not only could we confuse our audience, we could also end up being the bud of the joke among users who do know about this tradition.

We are living in an era where simply having a profile on social media is an invitation for public ridicule. Many people take advantage of unintentional mistakes to speak badly of brands, which means we should try our best not to make it so easy for them.

I advised my client to assess whether they really needed to create content about Thanksgiving and, if they were to decide to do it, to research more to ensure they don’t make simple mistakes that would be picked up by social media trolls.

Remember that translators are your cultural image consultants. Trust their advice before connecting your brand to any type of borrowed cultures!

See you for the next post!

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