Removing cats eyes and other cultural quirks

A foreigner driving through Britain might see this sign and become a little distressed. Not only does it seem that this peculiar island nation is plucking the eyeballs from our feline friends, it also looks like they’re proudly advertising the fact on the side of a road. I thought the British were supposed to love their pets?

Of course, most British people would see this sign and realize that they needed to take extra care keeping their car in the correct lane. The reflectors marking those lanes have been removed. They might chuckle about the absurdity of language or they might not even think about it. Probably just waiting to get home and eat their roast beef, think about the royal family, and everything else we British secretly do when the curtains are closed.

The picture is a British road sign on a British road. The audience is almost exclusively British and so the message is understood. A road sign has to quickly deliver information, it has no time for explanation. We do.

In Britain, more than 7% of the population don’t have English (or Welsh) as a first language. Often, especially in tech, the English language becomes the default for all of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. A prospective customer in Norway, for example, might be served the company’s British website, brochure or product sheet in if there’s no Norwegian version.

When we write, we need to remember to embrace this audience, not confuse and outsmart them. We need to make sure that we’re not forgetting that New Yorker who just got the new CTO job in the Netherlands and hasn’t quite mastered Dutch, the CISO from Mumbai who’s now managing in Moorgate, and the decision maker in Dubai.

Don’t forget about your core audience – but always try to write inclusively. If you’re telling them that you’re removing cats eyes, assure them you’re not blinding a defenseless kitten.

What’s your favorite odd cultural expression? Have you seen any creep into business writing? Did you know, I don’t even like Roast Beef? Let me know in the comments below.