The two-year anniversary of my three-month stint living and working in New York whizzed past a couple weeks ago…and it got me thinking of an anecdote, which actually has some meaning in today’s communications climate…

When I arrived in New York I wasn’t expecting to face such a MASSIVE cultural change. I had been to NYC twice before but hadn’t really mixed with the yanks until now. I found myself living in the New Yorker Hotel with about 500 other students and interns from around the world – but mainly from America. I soon found myself hanging around with a bunch of Americans (and a couple French girls) from Upstate New York, Nashville, Texas and Michigan. I was the only Brit amongst the pack and they were all fascinated with my accent.

Most days I would run into my new friends, or meet them in the bar in the evening after work. Each time we did, we exchanged a customary greeting, as with any culture, this is how it would usually go…

American: “What’s up, Tom?

Me: “Um…nothing? You alright?”

American: “Eh, yeah I’m fine dude. How are you?”

Ah, BINGO! My new American friend wasn’t assuming there was something up with me; he was merely asking how I was. And vice versa. By asking “You alright?” I wasn’t assuming something was wrong with my new American friend, but merely asking, “How are you?”

This exchange would happen every time I saw my new American friends for a good two or three weeks before we both began to realise that all we were doing was greeting each other in a slightly different way, reflecting our cultural up bringing. There didn’t have to be any awkward silences or confusion…we just had to understand each other’s dialect and way of doing things.

Thinking back to this story got me thinking about brands, and communications. There has been a lot of talk recently of digital localization, in which global brands must have local knowledge to communicate their global message to local markets. It is no good going in to America asking if everyone is “alright?” when you should really be asking, “what’s up?”

Brands, marketers and agencies a like have to understand that even if two countries speak the same language, the way they use that language will be completely different and thus the same message cannot be communicated in the same way. So make sure you take some time learning how a market talks, before your message get’s lost in translation.