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Were BP 'small people' comments lost in translation?

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg attempted an earnest apology Wednesday, but further angered the Gulf region when he said BP "care[s] about the small people." BP says that Svanberg's comments were misunderstood and "purely a translation matter." What do you think?

By Andrea Caumont  |  June 17, 2010; 10:48 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Definitely lost in translation. English is his second language and it's easy to use the wrong idiom. How many of us speak a second language?

Posted by: jckdoors | June 17, 2010 1:22 PM

The chairman says "BP won't scrimp
In feeding the fiscally limp;
Though you people are small
We will serve one and all
Our special today: Blackened shrimp."

Posted by: jd121 | June 17, 2010 1:51 PM

lost in translation? please. He is the chairman of an english speaking company. He wouldn't have made it past the mail room without outstanding command of english. Freudian slip is more like it.

As for how many of us speak a second language, it depends who 'us' is. We are a nation of immigrants, and immigration from the lands of the Queen has ceased long ago ...

Posted by: sarah_krones | June 17, 2010 7:13 PM

"WHO" is the "SMALL" PEOPLE?? I'd say most of us have legs that reach to the ground, and we also go on the commode/toilet EXACTLY the same way and wiping our hinders just like HE does!

Posted by: Maerzie | June 17, 2010 9:38 PM

Everyone agrees that BP has done a terrible thing and must pay. This comment, though, by a Swede, was harmless. His obvious intention with the "small people" was to refer to "the small fry," a harmless phrase that lots of people use (many in describing themselves) to set normal working stiffs and small businesses off from vast economic interests. There was none of the contempt of Leona Helmsley's infamous "only the little people pay taxes" remark. The CEO is a second-language speaker with a Conrad Veidt accent, and it was inevitable that journalists and others eager for a superficial angle would ignore their own foreign language deficiencies and make a mountain out of this. Lovely cartoon, though. How can anyone resist Anne?

Posted by: gregh2223 | June 17, 2010 10:05 PM

Hey, that short guy in the middle is Rep. Joe Barton.

Posted by: xdougwhite | June 18, 2010 12:48 AM

"What an arrogant Brit."....
"For your information, you English high class snoot,..."

FYI - the phrase "small people" wasn't used by a Brit; it was uttered by a Swedish representative for BP, a second-language speaker of English who probably translated it verbatim from his source of first language idioms ('småfolket' - 'small people' - is a Swedish phrase that is more or less synonymous with 'the common folk' . Leaving taste aside - I, a fellow Swede, would hesitate to use it - it isn't a disparaging term unless it is used in combination with a negative attitude).

Posted by: robotnic2 | June 18, 2010 5:46 AM

After having giving it a second thought - I I withdraw on my earlier position that the Swedish word 'småfolket'(what Svanberg probably translated verbatim to English from his Swedish first language) isn't a disparaging term unless used in combination with a negative attitude. It is in fact a more complex issue and I'm not entirely in favor of Svanberg's choice of words. I think that the Swedish expression 'småfolket' - 'small people', 'the small fry', - is actually to informal for the context and carries with it a connotation of 'talking down' when spoken by someone in a position like Svanberg's. Hence, I think he should have known better in his choice of words (which of course is a part of his profession to know). Still, naturally, it shouldn't be understood as an insult from Svanberg. He just revealed a lack of nuance in his language that extends to his Swedish.

Posted by: robotnic2 | June 18, 2010 6:22 AM

Actually what he meant is the people that 30 years ago used to make 1/30 as much guys like him get paid to run companies into the ground, but who are now looking at a 300 to 1 disparity.

Posted by: aprilglaspie | June 18, 2010 11:38 AM

Another BP gaffe - If his command of the English language is so shaky why have him speak? Plus this is exactly how CEOs think about the rest of the world. They are our Overlords and the American people seem all to willing not only to kiss every last one of their behinds but to see how deeply that kiss can go. There is not a single big corporation or company I trust to do the right thing even when that right thing would lead to more profits. Big Corporations run on short-sighted greed and we, the small, little, tiny, inconsequential people better realize it!

Posted by: dre7861 | June 18, 2010 11:51 AM

As someone who spent this past school year working with students whose family language was other than English, I can understand how this could have happened.

Posted by: GHDEL | June 18, 2010 2:17 PM

The guy speaks English much better than I speak Swedish! Whatever anybody may think of BP in general (and I, for one, don't think very much of it), I think you have to give the Chairman the benefit of the doubt as to not knowing the fine nuances of English well enough to have realized the element of condescension inherent in his choice of words.

Posted by: BirdsAbound | June 18, 2010 10:02 PM

Absolutely his intent was lost. He was talking about small business people. In the heat of fear people will jump at anything they can to vent.

Posted by: peep1935 | June 19, 2010 7:44 AM

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