Saturday, November 5, 2005

Gifted exchange

IN this era of widespread travel and international interaction, language plays a major role. If all goes well, there are no ripples on the surface of human relations but one word or gesture out of place and everything hits the fan. Here are a few joys of globetrotting.

When in Germany, don’t carry gifts for friends but carry presents. ‘Gift’ in German means ‘poison’. Your German friend will not even touch your little gift. In Japan, a gift should be presented with both hands and should not be wrapped in white paper because white represents death and rebirth. ‘Four’ is shi in Japanese and since shi also means death, one should never give four of anything to a Japanese. In Russia, visitors have to be very careful about placing their feet. If in Russia, a woman places her foot on a man’s foot, it is taken to be a confession of love. When Boris Yeltsin visited the White House, he was seated next to the First Lady Barbara Bush at a state dinner. During the event, Mrs Bush accidentally placed her foot on his. Later, Yeltsin autographed his menu with a note to her: ‘You stepped on my foot, you knew what it meant, and I felt the same way.’

Tourists are used to signs that inform them about something or the other. While signs in local languages are out of reach, their translated versions posted alongside can be hilarious and etiquette demands that you don’t laugh at them on the spot. You wait till you are alone and then you guffaw out loud at signs like the ones that follow. A notice in a Soviet weekly stated: ‘There will be a Moscow exhibition of arts by 15,000 painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years’. An advertisement by a Swedish furrier announced: ‘Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin’. Caution note from a Tokyo hotel read: ‘Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis’.