Lost In The Translations

Among the biggest problems of converting from socialism to capitalism in the former Soviet bloc is the lack of a free-enterprise vocabulary. The Moscow office of U.S. shipping outfit Sea-Land wanted to draft a brochure detailing its "customer service." Confused, a Sea-Land Russian staffer asked: "Is that the same as the Customs Service?"

In America, government bills are short-term obligations and bonds are longer-term. In Russia, the definitions somehow got transposed, confusing Western investors. Russian translators also have trouble with the difference between a commodity and a stock exchange. And it takes three sentences to define the alien concept of "cash flow." Another source of bafflement to Westerners and natives is the new practice of adopting English terms phonetically: "detekuityrasho" means "debt-equity ratio."

Recently, a potential investor in London asked Peter Zwack if his Hungarian liquor company, called Zwack, would name any "nonexecutive directors." Said Zwack: "No, all the directors in this company work for a living."

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