Frank Pastormerlo, whose job is to prospect and qualify new clients for us in the medical device industry, is still learning the ropes. He came into my office today in a state of shock. “Is it true that everyone in the medical device industry speaks English?”
“No way.” I said, “It’s a global business. There’s plenty of people that don’t speak English. Where did you hear that?”
“I just got off the phone with this guy who said they didn’t need to translate because everyone in their business spoke English.”
I love moments like these, were I can kick back in my chair and start pontificating instead of working. (Frank didn’t seem quite so pleased since he had a lot more calls to make, but what the hell, I’m the boss, right?)
“Well, he only ever talks to people that speak English, because that’s the only language he speaks. And that’s probably true of everyone in his company. All the people that don’t speak English avoid him and his friends as if they were football hooligans running towards them throwing bottles.”
Think about it. When was the last time you had a successful conversation with someone who didn’t speak the language you speak. If you were lucky you managed to find your way to the bathroom. But usually those cross-language encounters end with shrugs and sheepish smiles. Most of us live our lives in a bell jar of a single language, or if we are lucky one or two more, and outside of that it’s the dome of silence. All those opportunities for love and fortune, good times and bad, lie beyond the pale, even beyond our recognition.
“I can’t say that hooligan stuff!” Smart guy, Frank. He wants the close.
OK, I’ll teach you the Willy Brandt line, I’ll teach you how to say it in German!” If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann mussen Sie Deutsch sprechen
Frank’s expression becomes pained. “He’s not a sales guy. He does clinical trial stuff.”
Pause. “I think I’m just going to make more calls now.”