How to out-British the British

The Writer’s global training juggernaut rolls on, this week to China and Australia, where we’ve seen our misconceptions speedily overturned.

We’ve been training salespeople in a British multinational to write more persuasively, and our starting point was to get people writing more like they’d speak. In fact, we’d wanted to summarise it to our Aussie cousins as ‘make your writing sound more Australian, and less British’.

But oddly, when we came to look at their writing in bids and proposals, it was even more formal than the Brits’. What’s that about?

A (South African) participant in Sydney suggested that it was basically an insecure ex-colony trying to show its British (now corporate) masters that they know how to behave in polite society, by writing emails inviting clients to a ‘private luncheon’ (seriously). Needless to say he was shouted down by most of his colleagues.

But when we got to Beijing and Shanghai, we were (perhaps naively) surprised by just how quickly they took to what we were recommending. After an hour or two, they were writing really natural, straightforward, confident documents. In their second language.

And in Beijing airport we were surrounded by signs saying things like ‘Don’t leave your luggage here’. Now, that contraction would cause uproar in some of our British workshops with its dangerous informality. The Chinese, it seems, aren’t bothered (though admittedly, there were quite a few signs telling us what not to do).

So next time we’re back in Oz, we’re going to recommend some good old-fashioned Chinese straight-talking.

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