Squint Abroad: Language Barriers

We understand from a basic study of history that cultural and language barriers have been points of contention and difficulty for thousands of years.  Construction of the tower of Babel was halted when the masons were no longer able to communicate in the same tongue.  It’s safe to say that in the event production industry, we have moved beyond language and use our common bonds as professionals to get a show up and running. We all abide by certain natural rules and regulations, and intuitively understand the same restrictions people and gear have.

A mere week ago, in Bangkok, Thailand, we were tasked with erecting eight truss structure with a crew of 20 local technicians.  There was one individual on their team able to speak fluent English, yet we were able to build and raise all of the structures and move them into place with minimal verbal communication.  Hand signals and normally meaningless guttural sounds took on the meanings “left, right, forward, back, go, or STOP!!!”.  After a few hours, all eight structures were in place, and no one was injured in the process.

Truss Structure

Truss Structure

Truth be told, we had enough to deal with during the early stages of load in that the language barrier was never seen as a significant issue.  The event was being held in a third floor hotel ballroom, in a building without a significant freight elevator.  That meant 400+ feet of truss, baseplates, and outriggers were hand carried up stairs.  Keep in mind, it’s more than 90 degrees during the day in Thailand this time of year.  Needless to say, it was a challenge.

Everyone in our industry knows the difficulties that pop up on a show site, especially when project principals disagree on a given process or outcome of a decision during a load in.  While somewhat rare, work stoppage wastes time and money.  I’m sure that if either party in Thailand, our production team or the local gear house, had a reason to raise concerns over safety or process, flags would have been thrown.  The language barrier created the opportunity to avoid any nit-picking and allowed us to get the job done in an incredibly short amount of time.