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Whips and Hooters and Cross-cultural mis-communication

Lots of laughs and cross-cultural communication today at my son’s cross country at school today.

O big finish

I love hanging out with the  parents originally from South Africa and finding out:

1. their expressions I find unusual

2. Australian expressions they find funny and unusual.

Often, it’s the “little things” – like the mum who thought a whipper snipper was something “kinky”.

She just “heard” the whip part 🙂

For those who don’t know –   in Australia, a whipper snipper cuts down weeds.


The mum said that  in South Africa they call it a weed eater. In the US they call it a brush cutter or a weed whacker.

Mmmm –  Whacker is a word to be careful of in Australia unless you are talking about the  WACA – the Western Australian cricket stadium.

Also, two South African mums were talking about having a nice “flattie” for dinner.

I thought a flattie might be a flathead fish – but apparently in South Africa – a flattie is a flattened chicken.


We had lots of laughs – but in a business context cross-cultural miscommunication is no laughing matter – well it can be – but the laughs can get in the way of serious business.


I often help executives from different backgrounds. I will listen to their speech or presentation and point out any expressions that could be “lost in translation” and cause problems.

One South African exec I worked with told of how in an important, serious presentation, his Australian audience kept sniggering when he said a certain word.

He was talking about making warning sounds – as you would when drivers beep the horns of  cars.

Except he used a different expression. He kept talking about “hooters” – which has a different meaning in other parts of the world.

So I encourage you, if you are speaking or presenting  to an audience from a different background (even if they are from English-speaking backgrounds such as the US, UK or South Africa) – get a “local” to hear your presentation to find any “problem words”.

Locals can take out their hooters – and use their whipper snippers to cut out any problem words!

Here’s a link to another post about the dangers of cross-cultural communication.



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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.



Linked In – under Tony Biancotti

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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, cross-cultural communication etc.   I  like to help people COPE.



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