A Rose by Any Other Name Would Not Smell As Sweet

This potential client had found me on Proz. He was looking for an interpreter – too bad I don’t do interpreting. Just someone who would keep his pregnant wife company, really, for a few days, and assist her in the shops, while he was out attending A Serious Business Conference. He wanted to get my rates to make a transfer straight away. Too bad it sounded like a familiar scam (“Oh, I’ve transferred too much money accidentally, can you transfer me the difference back? The funds will show on your account in a few days, I promise”). The gentleman introduced himself by one name and signed his e-mail by another name. Too bad that I don’t trust people who change names so quickly, even though I fully embrace everyone’s right to reinvent themselves.

But the best bit was this: he was allegedly coming to Bruges and was looking for someone who would speak French. In Bruges. In Flanders. In a staunchly chauvinistic region, where people have fought for decades to gain respect for their language: Dutch. If he and his wife were real persons and if they did come to Bruges to speak French, I do not know what would have happened to them. Flemish shopkeepers sometimes speak a bit of French because they care about business, but some French-speaking people have reported being deliberately ignored.

Too bad he did not know about Belgium’s dual identity, even though its troubles had just made it into international news.

Cross-Cultural Slogans

Belgium is a trilingual country, with conflicting Wallonia and Flanders and a tiny German-speaking minority (too small to be in conflict with anyone).

Hence, Brussels’ train stations offer many examples of translations, as advertising and announcements have to be replicated in French, German and Dutch, and even in English on some occasions.

One instance struck me on one of my first visits.

It was an advertisement for a savings account in both Dutch and French, yielding a 4% interest rate. While the French one read a playful ‘A un de ces quatre !’, the Dutch version relished in its own simplicity and just boasted ‘Vier procent.’ (Four percent)

Here, punctuation was just as expressive – and deliberate – as the word choice: the French version chose to give an unexpected twist to a colloquial phrase, establishing a relationship of complicity with viewers – ‘A un de ces quatre’ is a way of saying goodbye, the equivalent of ‘See you round’, and ends on a dynamic exclamation mark. Furthermore, it implies that the benefit is guaranteed: see you next time, when you come to collect your four percent of profit.

The Dutch version, on the other way, does not even bother to tout the product. It merely informs viewers of the product’s strong point and its full stop seems to assert ‘Need we say more?’

Both versions are a fine instance of localization, i.e. adapting one’s message to a specific audience. I could not help but wonder how these differences would play for another audience, say the British market and the North American market. What kind of appeal would copywriters have to emphasise, which horn would they have to blow to entice viewers to get those four percent ?