Coca-Cola Co. Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent found a memorable way to toast Chinese President Hu Jintao: use Japanese.
“In honor of this very historic moment, I would like to propose a toast to President Hu and also to his esteemed delegation, kanpai,” Kent said. His toast was followed immediately by laughter from the crowd, which included hundreds of China hands, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former ambassador to China James Sasser and White House National Security Council China director Evan Medeiros.
I would have sworn I’d seen it transliterated from Mandarin as “kan pei”–still not quite the same as the Japanese, but closer, and it would be a more understandable mistake. (It means “dry cup”, right?)
"Kent, 58, isn’t alone in making a linguistic gaffe. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a gift to her Russian counterpart with a mock “reset” button, symbolizing the new approach the U.S. was taking toward Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told her the word really meant “overcharge.”
No political point to me posting that quote from the article. I just found it funny.
The official pinyin translation is “ganbei” but you can see all sorts of other romanizations out there.
China and Japan are 2 of the top markets for Coke. Mexico and US are the other top 2. I know the CEO’s been to China many times, and I’m sure Japan as well. Easy enough mistake for a gweiloh but he should know enough to check first before using a foreign word he doesn’t know at a State Dinner.
He used the official toast of what can and has been China’s mortal enemy and invader that raped, pillaged and plundered China within the lifetime of Chinese President Hu Jintao – the person and country he was toasting. Not least of which China is the fastest growing market for Coca Cola globally and the #2 market for Coca Cola in the world (Japan is #3 or #4 global market for Coca Cola and doesn’t have growth). That’s slightly worse than flying a flag upside down.
Hu Jintao should have replied by saying “I love Pepsi.”
My cantonese is very weak. Not even sure if there really is a standardized romanization system for Cantonese - certainly one sees a lot of variations out there.
gambei = ganbei (mandarin) = 干杯
yum seng: not sure but the yum should be yin (mandarin) = 飲 (饮 for simplified), which means “drink” as in to “drink tea.” So, some kind of “drink to the couple” thing but we really need a canto speaker to chime in.
gweilo or gweiloh is usually the way I’ve seen it written in honky town.
The Japanese “banzai” = wansui (mandarin) = 萬歲 (万岁 for simplified).
“kan pei” would be from one of the older Mandarin romanization systems out there. IIRC, pinyin was adopted by the news agencies a few years after Nixon went to China say around 1978.
Cat Whisperer: to be clear, it’s the same character and same root word (maybe akin to bonjour and buongiorno), but the pronunciation is very different to anyone that speaks either Japanese or Chinese with any degree of fluency. Saying the Japanese “kanpai” does not sound like a non Chinese speaker trying to say “ganbei” and butchering the pronunciation, rather it sounds like a non-Chinese speaker using Japanese to formally toast the President of China.
I’m not some radical Chinese nationalist that thinks this was a deliberate insult and humiliation on the global stage. But Mao on a pogo stick, if you’re going toast the President of the country that is your #2 market, #1 growth market, responsible for a big chunk of global profit, a battleground market with your biggest competitor, and where there may be unofficial barriers put up for doing business if the powers that be decide Pepsi might be a better investor, you probably want to make sure the toast is correct.