Think about the most embarrassing moment of your life. I am talking about red face, not sure if you should laugh, cry, run, hide, and/or never show your face again embarrassed. Now, think about that moment occurring to you while in a foreign country where the culture, language, and environment is totally different. My embarrassing moment happened to me while I was a 20 year old college student studying in Spain. 13 years later, I share this story and still get embarrassed about it. I share it first off, because it is hilarious (if you do not laugh, you need to go to the Dr. and get your humor meter checked), and second, it shares an important lesson about life, love and leadership.
Sit back grab some popcorn and a refreshment and get ready to read. You may want to make sure you are not eating ice cream while you read this one.
It was a hot April day in Alcalá de Henares Spain. I was wrapping up the end of a close to five month journey and study abroad trip to this beautiful country. My weekends were spent traveling all over the amazing country of Spain to destinations like Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, Valencia, Segovia, Salamanca, Toledo, Granada and Cordoba. While in Spain, I fell in love with the country, it’s people, their culture, history and all around lifestyle.
Oh yeah, and I am addicted to their coffee.
On this hot April day, I walked into a McDonalds to grab a fast, cheap and refreshing ice cream cone. If you do not know Spanish, let me give you a quick lesson. Spanish has a few letters that English does not. One of them being the “ñ”. When this letter is pronounced is makes the word sound different. Spain in Spanish is spelled España vs. Espana which would give it a different sound. The word for cone in Spanish is “cono”. If you wanted to order an ice cream cone you would order a “cono de helado”. Sounds easy right?
As I spent time in Spain, I was surprised about the way they use profanity, dirty words and strong expletives as a part of every day language. One of the words the Spainards use often is “coño”. This word can be used to strongly express something almost similar to the F-word in English. You can use it many ways in combinations with other words or by itself to express something strongly. The literal translation of the word means something different which I will share in a minute. Just remember, getting the language wrong even just a little changes things dramatically. In this case it would have changed what I was about to eat.
I enter the McDonald’s, approach the counter, and greet a very attractive Spanish woman about my age. She asks me what I wanted and I ordered up a “coño de helado”.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I was in trouble. My face turned red, I started to sweat, other patrons started looking at this big, tall, blonde haired foreigner who was already out of place in their country. The woman I ordered from as well got very red, very uncomfortable, and then gave me a smile. This was not a happy smile, it was a smile I had never seen before.
The literal translation for “coño” is vagina. I just asked her for an ice cream vagina. Small error in the language. Very different snack on a hot day.
She responded with “that is going to cost you more than 50 cents……………..” followed by “for here or to go”.
The restaurant burst in to laughter. She then handed me an ice cream cone and I ran out of there as fast as I could.
Why share this? Because in life, love, leadership and business, we are all wired to behave, act, and respond to situations differently. I call this the language of human behavior. We are all humans, we all may speak the same language (such as English, Spanish, etc.) yet doing so we all behave differently.
Getting the language wrong can have grave consequences. In this case, the young woman serving ice cream understood my language and made a correction. But what if she hadn’t? I could have been punched, slapped, or maybe went on a date! If you were wondering, there was no date and I only ate ice cream that day. **disclaimer: my wife Emily is 100% okay that I share this story
As you lead teams, work with others and drive towards a common goal, remember, we are all wired to behave a little different and value certain things when making decisions. None of it is right or wrong, it just is how it is. Knowing the language you speak and behave with as well as that of others around you can pull everyone together for the common goal and purpose. The better I have become at this, the more effective the teams I lead have become.
Here is a video where I explain more about this topic and the ice cream cone story.
Here is a phenomenal resource to find out the language you speak. Feel free to use these two assessments FREE here to take a DISC and Values Assessment to see how you and others you do life with behave.