I’ve lived in twelve countries and visited dozens of others. I am the definition of seasoned traveler and officially a global nomad. I dress appropriate to the culture I’m in, I speak softly, I observe and imitate the behavior around me, I listen. I do not make cultural blunders on a grand scale. Ever.
Until I moved to Germany.
My passion is writing, but my career is as an editor and proofreader who specializes in academic texts written by non-Native English speakers. Whenever I move to a new place I suss out university contacts and let them know I’m in town should they need someone to look over materials to be published in English or presented at international conferences.
Within a week of getting our temporary internet connection, I started putting out some feelers. A professional cover letter outlining all the universities and individuals I already work with, my previous editing projects, an updated CV, and of course my professional services website link, now separate from my personal site.
Because my internet is slower than in 1997, sending emails with attachments takes forever. This is the only time you will ever hear me say I am grateful to my turtle ‘Net.
A few days go by, a few more emails sent and I get a cryptic email from a professor: “You might want to rethink your web host because of the negative connotation in Germany.”
This is Zuzu freaking out.
What does it mean?! What does it mean?! A failed Google search and unanswered text to a German friend later, I am imagining the worst: it must have some kind of Nazi reference or is a racist slur in German. With no answers forthcoming elsewhere, I take a deep breath and politely ask the professor to help me decipher this mysterious palabra.
The kind fellow writes me back, politely informing me that “Wix”(.com) is the colloquial term for masturbation in German.
It gets worse.
When I first created my email signature Gmail didn’t allow for embedding links in the text, so my very professional email was tagged at the footer with: http://www.wix.com/SezinKoehler/Services.
Oh. My. GOD!
The new girl in town sure has everyone’s attention, but for what services will they be interested in hiring her?
I am Zuzu’s complete and total mortification.
What was your worst cultural blunder ever?
©2011 Sezin Koehler, image via Networking Witches