Whether you’ve expanded your reach with international toll free numbers or have international colleagues or clients, if you’re part of an international workplace you’ve probably encountered some words and phrases that are completely new to you.

Just as we have unique phrases and sayings in the US, many countries all around the world use phrases that are totally unique to them. These idioms are usually shorter, visually focused phrases that are used to put across a wider meaning – think ‘blowing off steam’ or ‘hitting the nail on the head’ and you’ve, well, hit the nail on the head!

While we wouldn’t think twice about using these idioms in a business setting, they can often seem confusing or odd to non-native speakers hearing them for the first time. Similarly, many international idioms may seem a little strange to us when translated into English.

In the interest of easing one of the biggest challenges posed by international business communications, we’ve gathered together some of the weirdest and most wonderful business idioms and visualized exactly what they mean when translated.



Do not care about someting or have no opinion about something - German

‘Das ist mir Wurst’ is a German expression that translates to ‘this is sausage to me’. If a German colleague says this, they are telling you that they don’t care or have no opinion on the matter at hand.



2.Good luck - Italian

The Italian phrase ‘In bocca al lupo’ has a direct translation of ‘in the mouth of the wolf’. If you hear this at work, it’s not at all as aggressive as it sounds – this phrase is similar to the English ‘break a leg’ and is a wish of good luck.



3.Trigger an argument when the atmosphere is already tense - Spanish

‘Abrir la caja de pandora’ is the Spanish equivalent of ‘opening Pandora’s box’. This phrase is based on the myth of Pandora, who opened a jar full of evils that were then released into the world. Simply put, it means starting something that will cause a lot of problems, for example, triggering an argument in an already tense atmosphere.



4.When someone tries to fix something and the issue gets worse - Spanish

Another phrase you may come across from a Spanish co-worker is ‘Es peor el remedio que la enfermedad’ which has the same meaning as ‘worse the remedy than the illness’. In the workplace, this could be used when someone tries to fix an issue and instead makes it worse.



5.To jump from topic to topic - French

If a French colleague or client tells you you’re ‘jumping from the rooster to the donkey’ (‘Sauter du coq à l’âne’), you’ll no doubt conjure up a hilarious mental image. However, before you laugh too much, you should know they’re accusing you of jumping from topic to topic and being difficult to follow.



6.Kill two birds with one stone - Swedish

The Swedish have a saying, ‘Slå två fulgor I en smäll’, which meaning ‘hitting two flies in one blow’. Similar to the English ‘two birds with one stone’, in the workplace, this phrase would mean completing two tasks in one go.




Keep your eye on the ball - English

While many international idioms bring to mind comical imagery, English idioms can be equally weird to non-native speakers when taken literally. Take ‘keep your eye on the ball’ as an example: while those used to the phrase know it to mean ‘give something your full attention’, those unfamiliar may be imagining something a little more unusual.



8.To cheat or to mislead someone - Polish

Colleagues or clients from Poland? Double-check your behavior if they accuse you of ‘turning someone into a horse’ (‘Zrobić kogoś w konia’) – they’re accusing you of cheating or misleading.




There’s a great idiom in China, ‘九牛一毛 ‘, or9 cows and 1 strand of cow hair’. Similar to our well-known idiom ‘a drop in the bucket’, this phrase indicates something is small or of little value to the bigger picture.




If a Japanese co-worker tells you ‘even monkeys fall out of trees’, rest assured, they’re not calling you a monkey. This idiom (猿も木から落ちる’) is an offering of reassurance that means anyone – even the most skilled people – can make a mistake.



While they bring about some hilarious imagery, these visualizations also offer a quick and easy insight into some of those business communications that may have previously left you scratching your head. Next time you’re interacting with an international colleague or client at work and hear something unusual, chances are you’ve just stumbled across a native idiom. Just learn what they mean, and you’ll soon be communicating like a pro with business associates all across the world.