Wednesday, August 2, 2017

China's Struggles With English: A Starbucks "Grond Open" in Bengbu

While signs of Starbucks localizations aren't hard to spot in China, such as its red bean scones, one sign displayed on the opening day for the second Starbucks in Bengbu probably isn't how Starbucks wants to adapt in China.

"Grond Open" presumably resulted from a combination of spelling and grammatical errors in translating the Chinese phrase below "盛大开业", which is typically translated as "Grand Opening". When I asked staff about the sign, one young woman told me it had been made by a local company in Bengbu. While them using a local printer doesn't surprise me, with Starbucks opening more than a store per day on average in China I would still expect them to use a design distributed by Starbucks' central corporate office in China. But perhaps displaying a grand opening sign isn't standard and Starbucks corporate hadn't planned for a store to take this route. The last time I saw a Starbucks store on its first day was over six years ago in Kunming, so I can't say from personal experience whether grand opening signs are common or not. A quick online search didn't turn up any similar examples from Starbucks elsewhere in China.

English mistakes like "Grond Open" on professionally made signs, displays, menus, etc. are rather easy to find in China, and the Chinese government wants to reduce their prevalence. It seems fair to have higher expectations in this regard for U.S. based chains, particularly one as successful, prominent, and internationally experienced as Starbucks. That even they slip up suggests it might be a while before such mistakes become a rare sight.


  1. I've only been to one other country where there was such a consistent indifference about the use of coherent, proper English on business signage and text. I was taken aback when I first visited Singapore and saw none of the nonsense verbuage that I had grown accustomed to on the mainland. I asked a local who assured me that it wasn't because Singaporean English is of such a high caliber but that businesses, naturally?, regard bad signage as contributing to a negative expression on their business.
    English signage in China is often decorative. Business owners don't expect Han Chinese to read it and more often than not Chinese don't read because that would potentially apply the knowledge that they have spent years trying to acquire.
    But on the mainland, I think there is a more insidious factor at play. Nobody wants to contribute negative comments about anything. I'm very confident that more than one employee at this new franchise can read English and recognize the error. But to speak up has no upsides and only downsides. It means that the manager must reorder the signs (more work); the printer must admit that he has no quality control (loss of face); there is a delay in getting a corrected sign on display (horrors, a potential loss of income!) Whereas a Singaporean businessowner might express gratitude to a stranger pointing out an English error in a business text, a mainland employee who catches a similar mistake has learned by example to just keep silent and pretend that everything is perfect.

    1. For some reason I didn't see your comment until just now. I want to respond, particularly to your last point. I'd like to do it in a post, though, so that will come soon.