Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority

When I lived in the UK, I often heard a judgement about French businesses, restaurants or commerce that the customer service is rude and unhelpful.

It is true to say that phrases such as “I’m afraid we don’t…” or “I am really sorry, but” are not really part of the French language. The excessive use of sorry, please and thank-you is unnatural. We simply follow other codes to express the same tone and message. (Hint: try to start your conversation in a bar or a café in Paris with a “Bonjour” instead of “Excuse me” and see the difference.) There are actually business coaches in France who actively discourage salespeople from starting a pitch with a “thank you for receiving me today”, because, they argue, this puts them in a position of inferiority. And this is in a country where selling in just one meeting with a prospective client is notoriously difficult! You don’t want to look like you are asking a favour when you want to affirm yourself as a potential business partner. When you sell, you actually solve somebody’s problem, so who should thank whom in the end?

Here is what the French professionals say

For the past year, I have been teaching business English to many professionals in Normandy. They are all business owners or sales staff, with many years of successful careers in industry, retail or e-commerce under their belts. Some already work with international clients or suppliers, e.g. in Germany or Italy. They are all stunned when I show them British or American business writing or play telephone conversations. Their typical reaction is: “Why do I have to thank people at the start AND at the end of the letter (conversation)? I have already done it!”

Yep, you got it: helpful, but proud.

Less is more

So, do we not thank people for their business, or for queries or enquiries?

Yes, we do, but… whilst we would say it once, it’s not going to happen more than that in a phone call or a letter. In France, we serve customers for sure, but we do not grovel.

If you complain to a French company, do not expect a response starting with “Dear Mrs Dubois, thank you for your letter about your compensation claim”. A customer is being difficult? We respond to their query or complaint, but we do not thank them for being a pain in the backside.

Status vs. money

The priorities are somewhat different. In the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries, the customer is the king. Not so much in France. Status and dignity are more important than money. A professional you do business with (or a Parisian waiter, for that matter!) wants to be treated as an individual in an equal-playing field, not like a serf. Salespeople will not bend over backwards to you to get a sale.

High vs. low context culture

The French culture is also more “high context” than say, British or American. The meaning is more understated. We don’t tend to repeat information or summarise action points at the end of a business meeting. The cues in communication tend to be more implicit (the famous sous-entendus). If you repeat the same information or recap constantly, you may run a risk of offending your audience. They may think that you patronise them, or worse: that you don’t trust them.

The other meaning of “thank you”

If you have ever travelled around France, have you noticed how often in French we say “thank you” where an English speaker would say “please”?  It makes an instruction sound more assertive. So, where an English sign would say “Please do not park here”, in French it will say “Merci de ne pas stationner”. The same rule applies in business writing. An English email would say: “Please confirm your availability.” In French, we thank instead: “Merci de confirmer”. “Thank you” is an assertive “please”

(Here comes a side note, but I can’t help it: You can see in France poor, but alas frequent translations like this one: “Thank you for not parking here”. I have seen many of these in Normandy and even in a well-known museum in Paris😮. It is high time that tourist boards or local authorities stopped using machine translation for tourist information, but that is another topic altogether. Rant over.)

Too much thank you

Working in multicultural contexts

I must say that even after 22 years of living in an English-speaking country I have remained French in many ways. My translation business coach, Jenae Spry, invariably starts every webinar or Q&A session with: “Thank you guys so much for hanging out with me, I know you guys are so busy”. And every time I cannot help thinking: “Why are you thanking me again? I am paying you for this service, so of course, I am tuning in!” 😊

Straightaway though, my little culture-awareness voice answers: “Yes, but she is American, and this is the way she manages business communication with her clients. She sells me a coaching service and she thanks me for the business”.

If like me, you like the topic of cultural differences, I highly recommend the fabulous book by Erin Meyer: “The Culture Map” ( https://www.erinmeyer.com/book ). That map is very complex, but the most important lesson I have learned from her book is this: try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their perspective. What may seem rude or cold in one culture may be a sign of respect and self-respect in the other.

Why should you hire a professional translator if you have bilingual staff?

I’ll be the first to admit: I have built my industry knowledge and maintained my translation skills in my in-house software development jobs. In other words, I was part of the in-house staff who spoke languages and so a lot of translation work landed on my desk. However, in many cases, especially in development and testing projects, the localisation of software was actually part of my job and of the project plan. And I am fully qualified to do the job. Not all testers happen to have a master’s degree in professional translation…😊. In short, I am more of an exception that confirms the rule.

So why exactly should you hire a professional to do your translation or localisation work?

 

1. My employees are fully bilingual so they can translate competently and professionally

Ask yourself this question: You learned to count at school. Does this make you an accountant? Like arithmetic, language is a tool. In translation language is also a tool, but we don’t just speak languages. Native speakers, even if they manage to resist the influence of their host country’s culture and language, stay within the boundaries and limitations of their language. A high level of bilingualism is the most basic of the qualifications of a competent translator. Add to that mental dexterity, bicultural competence, industry expertise and strategies required to transfer meaning successfully across those boundaries.

 

2. Being a native speaker makes you fully competent in the language

Have you ever read something written by a native speaker and it didn’t make sense? Or asked them about a rule in their language and they just answered: “I don’t know, that’s just how it is.” We speak our native tongue organically, without studying the grammar, syntax or structure. Think of all the risks you take if you rely on a non-professional. The ability to write clearly and accurately is a prerequisite for a professional translation.

 

3. Do you really need to be certified to do a translation job?

You need a certification to be a plumber, electrician or carpenter. So why are you ready to accept a non-professional service in translation?  Like in other trades, translators complete courses, diplomas, and university degrees during which they learn about tools, technologies, methodologies and resources necessary to perform their duties. It is doubtful that your in-house staff understand how to use some of the tools that professionals use for productivity, such as translation memory and glossaries. As a result, you will end up with a subpar product.

 

4. My bilingual staff can translate that marketing flyer “real fast” and won’t cost me anything

When you take your bilingual staff away from their primary responsibilities and ask them to translate, you’re distracting them from their actual job. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, employees can experience 50-60 interruptions each day. That’s an interruption every 8 minutes. After each interruption, it can take an employee 23 minutes to return to his or her original task, according to a study by the University of California, Irvine. The financial cost to these distractions is $10,375 per person, per year, according to Harmon.ie. Distractions also take their toll on your employees’ engagement and effectiveness. Harmon.ie’s research shows that 33% of employees had difficulty working and producing because of workplace distractions, and 25% had no time to think deeply or creatively as a result. One in five workers found that distractions caused information overload and 1 in 10 missed deadlines because of them. So, before you ask a bilingual employee to “just” translate that flyer “real fast,” ask yourself what unaccounted costs you may be incurring.

 

5. How about a quick review?

Sometimes, in-house staff are asked to review a translation completed by a professional. While your bilingual employees may have grown up speaking a language at home, that doesn’t mean they have the same linguistic expertise to understand specific grammar or cultural conventions. Therefore, their edits or suggestions may actually hurt the accuracy of the translation created by a professional linguist. Once again, you are wasting resources on something that’s neither their job, nor their priority.

 

6. Equal opportunities for all?

Additionally, you may be creating equal opportunity and equal pay issues in your organisation. You may have more than one employee with the same level of education, experience, base pay and performance, but only one receives a small bonus each month for translating documents. The other may feel treated unfairly if they didn’t receive the same opportunity.

 

So, what is stopping you from assigning the job to a professional translator? 

 

We are under pressure to keep the costs down

Because of financial constraints, some businesses or non-profits try to save money, often by asking bilingual employees to help translate various documents. By using bilingual employees to complete translation work, you expose your organisation to costly mistakes. Is it really worth the risk? I know this may sound biased, coming from someone who is a professional translator, but the data speaks for itself.

Cost of translation can vary, but on average it is between 0.07-0.15 euros per word. This means that a standard, 350-word page will cost around 50 euros.

Some translators charge a minimum rate, others will offer you a more comprehensive solution that can include translation, proofreading, and testing. It is always best to ask for a free quote, which they will be happy to offer.

 

Outsourcers don’t understand our tech business

This is a common complaint, especially with large translation agencies. Their vendors can be scattered around the world and will not take time or have an opportunity to get to know your business. However, if you hire an independent translator directly, they should and will ask you for background information, existing documentation and glossaries. You can ask them directly for their credentials, quality processes and turnaround times. (Read about the essential questions to consider when hiring a professional translator here: https://edittranslations.com/what-makes-an-excellent-translator-5-traits-you-should-look-for/ .) Look for a specialist in your industry: e.g. I worked in software development teams, so I’m already up to speed with or can quickly grasp complex technical explanations of your products.

 

We need to focus on innovation

It’s good to keep everyone up to date in a fast-changing technology world, but do not neglect your brand. A professional translator will help you spread the word about your technology to foreign audiences and this in turn will help you increase your customer base and sales.

 

Long-term gains

If you hire the same translator repeatedly, they will with time become more productive and knowledgeable of your business. We use technologies, such as terminology databases, translation memories and glossaries, which speed up our work and make it consistent by recycling previous relevant content. Meanwhile, your employees can get on with their own work!

#HireaPro

 

“Can’t read: won’t buy”: why you should localise your website

Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2014,” is a catchy title of a report published in April 2014 by an independent research firm Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research). The report contained findings of a survey of more than 3,000 global consumers in 10 non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. Specifically, the research assessed online language preferences and their subsequent impact on purchasing decisions.

The key findings can be summarised as follows:
  • 75% of consumers say that they want the products in their native language.
  • 30% never buy at English-language sites, and another 29% rarely do.
  • Across the 10-country sample, 56% either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English, or boycott English-language URLs altogether.
  • Automotive and financial services are the products that consumers are least likely to buy if the website is not in their native language.
  • Exactly half would prefer that at least the navigation elements and some content appear in their language, and another 17% strongly share that preference. This finding contradicts the conventional industry wisdom that you should localize everything or nothing.

Considering these findings, Common Sense Advisory Chief Strategy Officer and founder Don DePalma concluded that “there should be no question about localizing your website and product information if you want to sell more goods or services to global customers. Localisation improves customer experience and increases engagement in the brand dialogue. It should be a rigorously planned and executed business strategy for any company looking to grow internationally.” (https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/31/Survey-of-3-000-Online-Shoppers-Across-10-Countries-Finds-that-60-Rarely-or-Never-Buy-from-English-only-Websites)

So why should you translate your website and into which languages?
1. Do you want to increase your customer base?

Clearly the statistics presented above support the need to localise your content and products. If your online presence is only in English, you are missing on over 50% of potential buyers who will never purchase from you.

2. Do you do business abroad already?

If you provide your customers with product descriptions, shipping and payment options and transact in their language, they will feel more comfortable. As a result, they will come back to you for more business because they trust you. When a site is in a language that people don’t understand, they are more likely not to trust it.

3. What is your competition doing?

If they are not doing the same (yet) you can set the standards that others will have to follow, differentiate your brand and gain precious market share before everyone else.

4. Have you examined your website analytics?

Where does the traffic come from? Have you had global visitors who did not stop and buy?

The answer to these questions will also help you establish which languages you should select for your localisation project.

5. Do you attach importance to strong SEO?

You will multiply its rich benefits if you translate your content and carefully choose SEO-rich keywords that greatly helps when global users search in their preferred languages.

6. Tempted by a free solution such as Google Translate?

A penny-pinching attitude really does not pay off here. If you read Google’s own quality guidelines (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2721306?hl=en&ref_topic=6001971 ) you will see that they penalise the search engine rankings of websites that use automated content. This includes “text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing”.

Conclusion

The best way to translate a website that converts and boosts your brand is by hiring a professional experienced translator who intimately understands the language and the local culture. You will avoid developing content that appears foolish and turns the potential buyers off. The media frequently publish the localisation horror stories where lack of cultural and linguistic understanding has led to a ridiculous result. You don’t want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions. Your great products and online flagship store deserve great translations.

Why did the world laugh at the French President’s mistake?

Last year a piece of news about the French President Macron made a lot of readers giggle. The President possibly switched between French and English a bit too fast. When talking about the Australian PM’s wife, he misused the word “delicious” — délicieuse — because in French it also means “delightful”.

Question: what if a mistake like this appeared on your professional website?

After all, “delicious” is the first automatic translation of “délicieux” that comes up on Google. And if you are a bit more curious and you click on the 8 more translations that Google offers, which one would you choose?

Not only you will lose good ranking and search traffic. Chances are that visitors won’t stay on your web page too long and errors will not add to their trust.

Your website is your business card, so careful phrasing does matter. Otherwise, it will be inauthentic and ineffective for people not speaking English.

Do you want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions?

Show them you care. Great products deserve great translations.