Thursday, June 23, 2011

No One Wears Shoes Here

Last Sunday was Father's Day here in the United States and I spent the day catching up on my reading while the children played around me. Among a series of interesting articles and OpEds in BusinessWeek, Fortune, the New York Times, and other publications, I found an interesting column by Rana Foroohar in the Curious Capitalist section of Time Magazine called "Why the World Isn't Getting Smaller."

The spirit of the article is that globalization is not such a big thing as some of us want it to be, and — using Thomas Friedman's image — that the world is not that flat.

Rana points to some facts:

  • More than half of global trade, investment and migration still takes place within regions — much of it between neighboring countries.
  • Some 80% of global stock-market investment, for example, is in companies that are headquartered in the investor's home country.
  • Exports represent about 25% of the global economy.
  • Less than 20% of Internet traffic crosses national borders.
  • Only 2% of students attend a university outside their home country.

The author also discusses the fact that one of the effects of globalization is actually more demand for localized products as emerging markets now have money and confidence to call their own shots and demand for customized products and solutions.

My father was the son of a shoemaker from Italy and grew up in a small town in Brazil and he used to tell a joke that came to my mind as read this column. It's the story of two shoe salesmen who were sent to Africa to see if there was a market for their product. The first salesman reported back, “This is a terrible business opportunity, no one wears shoes here.” The second salesman reported back, “This is a fantastic business opportunity, no one wears shoes here.”

Whether the world is getting smaller or not doesn't really matter. The reality is that as countries become wealthier, populations start to demand products to meet their needs, and they want these products in their own language. So for the language services industry, I would say that the world is a fantastic business opportunity, no one speaks all languages here!


  1. Thank you for sharing this article and the joke it was very interesting and insightful. I completely agree with you,as a language professional as myself, the world needs many more localized products because no one speaks every language.

  2. I also like the joke...but the second man is right. Opportunity is what you make of things. It just takes being sensitive to the local culture and then fortunes are ready to be made.

  3. Superb ! Your blog is incredible. I am delighted with it. Thanks for sharing with me.