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Oct 9 / Vivi

What does “it’s a good start” really mean

Like many others that haven’t lived here long enough, I thought americans are just too damn positive when I first moved to the US. There’s no way that everything is so ‘great’ and ‘awesome’ all the time!

And the problem goes both ways, my american friends had trouble understanding me.

And then it struck me: it’s just a matter of translation. They don’t really mean that it’s ‘great’, they just have a different meaning for that word. :-)

So I’ve made these graphs to make it more clear what does “it’s a good start” really mean.

Objectively speaking, things probably fall on a bell curve. Most things are average, and trail off on both edges into few things being complete junk and few things being super duper awesome.

99% of the americans that I know will never ever say “i don’t like what you’ve done”. Those words are just not in their vocabulary.

The startup community is an interesting one. You can tell when somebody doesn’t like your idea because they will say “it’s interesting” and then stop.

They probably like it if they start talking about problems that you might have, what if Google starts doing this, what if you don’t get critical mass, etc.

You can tell they really love it when they start brainstorming with you what you could do in the future if you succeed. They get excited with you and stop worrying about issues, instead they talk about what your idea could become.

Where do I even start? :-) Romanians are a negative bunch. The best you can get out of them, if they don’t have anything negative to say about your idea, is to say that even if you do succeed, it’s futile anyways. Somehow, somewhere, sometime in the future it will eventually fail for whatever reason.

[update] And for the curious, here’s how the graph looks like for me. :-)

40 Comments

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  1. Vali / Oct 9 2011

    “What is this shit?” is the way we express our curiosity :)

  2. Tudor / Oct 9 2011

    It’s funny because it’s true…

  3. Alt Tudor / Oct 9 2011

    Inca un Tudor, inca un “True”

  4. ccs / Oct 10 2011

    Usually it’s wrong to generalize. :)

    There’s no such thing as “average X”.
    At Apple your “pretty good” is mostly called: “Stop doing stupid shit”.

    There’s some cultural difference in how words are used or what’s polite.

    In the school when your response is completely wrong:
    USA: “that’s an interesting thought”
    RO: “you’re an idiot, get out!”

    Smile in USA: “I’m a nice person”. Not smiling at strangers is rude.
    Smile in RO: “I’m happy and I show it to my friends only”. Smiling at strangers makes them think you’re stupid or they did something stupid.

    Other Europeans struggle too:
    http://francistapon.com/Travels/Western-Europe/Defending-the-American-Smile

    BTW: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3092063

  5. Vivi / Oct 10 2011

    Of course it’s wrong to generalize. :-) But stereotypes are there for a reason. And indeed this post is about those cultural differences. And it’s about correctly translating what “it’s a good start” really means in objective terms.

    So many people relate to this post that it’s hard to claim it doesn’t stem from an intuition that I would bet a lot of emigrants have.

  6. Niyaz / Oct 10 2011

    Interesting….

  7. Tirrell Payton / Oct 10 2011

    This is awesome!

  8. notromano / Oct 10 2011

    That describes a Romanian girl I knew to a T. That explains everything :/

  9. dt / Oct 10 2011

    typo: “trouble understing me” or is it intentional?

    • Vivi / Oct 10 2011

      Non intentional. Thanks!

  10. Johnny Abacus / Oct 10 2011

    “Usually it’s wrong to generalize.”

    Do you discover that you should look both ways every time you try to cross the street?

    Another name for generalization is learning. People do it a lot because it is almost always right to generalize. The tricky parts are deduction, induction and causality.

  11. Adrian / Oct 10 2011

    Even so…

  12. vana dragos / Oct 10 2011

    daca pui si un buton de like pe facebook promit ca il apas :D

  13. Horia Dragomir / Oct 10 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree!

    Even so…

  14. antirez / Oct 10 2011

    Italians exactly have the same graph as Romanians. They are very negative, and I wonder if this plays a role in the poor startup scene where have here in Italy. I would say it is a component, as Italians will not simply mark stuff from other people as garbage, but also will rarely believe that their own ideas are going to work. And if you don’t trust your idea your are not going to build a business (and if you do you are going to fail probably…).

    • Vivi / Oct 10 2011

      Definitely plays a role. That’s why the romanian startup scene is pretty bad too. How could you succeed when you have to deal with so much negativity from everywhere?

  15. ioa / Oct 10 2011

    I agree that differences exist across and within Romania, US, Canada, etc… I also like how the British call lots of things “awful”, when Canadians would use “great” and United Statians… – “awesome”:)

  16. George / Oct 10 2011

    Any experience with Germans? :)

  17. Gond Wanaland / Oct 10 2011

    This article is a good start.

  18. Matt / Oct 10 2011

    You forgot the British and Aussies.

    From “bad” to “good” they will say “yeah, good” or “good”

    from “good” to “great” they will say “not bad!”

  19. Brent / Oct 10 2011

    Vivi,

    I really love this approach to describing the distribution of things people say. :) We did a survey where most of the American entrepreneurs, in a down economy, were optimistic about growth.

    I wonder if Greeks and Romanians have a similar sense of things – I used to have a boss that said what your Romanian example says most of the time. It made me laugh to read it and remember those days (also during a startup).

    Thanks for the great insight and sharing your approach. :)

    Brent

  20. E.S. / Oct 10 2011

    This seems more like a West coast/East coast thing to me. I still wouldn’t say that people from NYC are as pessimistic as Romanians, but there’s significant difference in how people mask their internal state in NYC and the Valley. :-)

  21. Julien / Oct 10 2011

    Soooo True !

  22. richtaur / Oct 10 2011

    > Objectively speaking, things probably fall on a bell curve. Most things are average …

    What about Sturgeon’s Law? 90% of everything is crap :-)

    • Vivi / Oct 10 2011

      Was this Sturgeon guy Romanian? That would explain everything. :-)

  23. Liviu / Oct 10 2011

    As far as I remember you have had 3 of these graphs in a post on the “developer blog” long time ago. Now you have added the “startup community” graph. Thanks for the insights.

    What tool(s) did you use to make the graphs?

    • Vivi / Oct 10 2011

      I use Photoshop whenever I design stuff. Yes, I realized this a while ago, I had to update it and translate it into english though, it’s useful stuff.

  24. kellogs / Oct 11 2011

    What ?? you call this shit “good startup thoughts” or “right attitude” ? Weeeell, I would not know where to even start proving you how wrong this is – 4th posting on this blog to be of *such* low quality. It mangles reality so hard! What is wrong with you ? Stop doing this

    :D

    [trolololol]

  25. Santiago Lezica / Oct 12 2011

    Haha! I reached this site from HN, so I wasn’t really expecting this article. I really enjoyed it. Pretty-looking graphics, too! Thanks.

  26. Rodica / Oct 14 2011

    Ha!
    Even so… ;)
    Debunk what’s appropriate/what not:
    Rule 1 – modesty and self-denigration going to extreme: play successes down, dismiss any praise you receive, focus on “still crap stuff” and recap often how ignorant and stupid you are, how much you still have to study, work and develop yourself.
    (Big shock for both me and the American, when she asked: “Doesn’t this view about yourself put you down, can you even continue what you do?” and I answered: “Put me down? On contrary, this is the whole engine that moves me forward. If I’d let myself be happy with what I did, I’d stop right here!”)
    Rule 2 – dismiss anyone who shows satisfaction with his/ hers achievements as boasting. Romanians should Not make such friends! LOL!

    Well, I could go on with listing all these, but really, to me it boils down to the method: carrot or stick. But the outcome is the same, no?

    The noticeable side-effect if you suddenly change the environment you grew up in: if you grew up in a “carrot” environment and change it for the “stick”, you must feel worthless, no one ever appreciates you, no?
    Whereas, if I grew up in a “stick” environment, it is easier for me to get over mishaps and disappointments, because I wasn’t going to get a “carrot” for myself anyway, while looking for a “stick”. There are “sticks” where ever I turn! Switching to a “carrot” will make me really lazy: “Blah, everything goes, even me, because these guys don’t discern – by “them” I’m awesome! LOL!”

    And then there are steps to cross cultures, context, and start feeling at home in each. One step at a time.
    Sharing personal views and experiences helps, but generalizing based on personal views doesn’t.
    To add to Vivi’s point, there is a middle way between dismissing stereotyping and embracing it. Romanians are not all the same. Americans are not all the same. (Now, that was deep, eh, ROFL!)
    Haha! Cheers!

    R.

  27. Michael Leggett / Oct 17 2011

    I can vouch for Vivi’s graph for his own response. His response to 95% of anything I ever showed him when we worked together was, “it’s ok.” Every once in a while, I’d get a “cool.” On the positive, it always drove me to want to do better. On the negative side, “it’s ok” could be close to cool or close to meh/crap which means it isn’t very useful.

    • Vivi / Oct 17 2011

      Thanks for dropping by Michael! :-) You are of course right about the tradeoffs.

  28. Vali / Oct 19 2011

    is this form working Vivi? I’ve tried several times to post…

    • Vivi / Oct 19 2011

      A bunch of your comments just went into spam, which I don’t check. I have no idea why.

  29. camelia / Oct 21 2011

    Loved it, Vivi!

  30. Marius Gavril / Nov 4 2011

    I loved this post! This is so true. I had a few things to do with all 3 categories on my start up. 100% the way you described it! good luck and read you around :)

  31. edbera / Nov 16 2011

    Wow..Great insight,i think. I’ve just realized the reason why my American peer is not so enthusiastic when we do our group project. even though he said “oh~that’s interesting!!” I understood what he’s said ….very… literally!

  32. adryyy / Mar 5 2012

    Absolut genial :) !

  33. postdoc / Mar 13 2012

    So true about Americans !

  34. Lucian Daniliuc / May 12 2012

    Hehehehe… “Romanians are a negative bunch.”
    That’s so funny!

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