Lost in translation: Putin’s ‘slapdown’ comment

Several media outlets have misquoted Vladimir Putin’s words which he said during the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Prime Minister allegedly referred to those of ‘limited mental capacity’.

The quote in question was Putin’s answer to Michael Dell, after the IT mogul asked how his company and other players in the industry can help Russia cope with the global financial crisis.

Some media quoted Putin’s answer as “We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity.” Fortune called the reply ‘a slapdown’ aggravated by Putin’s description of Russian scientific traditions in mathematics, which, according to the magazine, implied any old fool can build a PC outfit. The Inquirer’s report on the episode is headed “Russia tells Dell where to stick his computers”.

Oh, my! Big bad bully Putin insults a man who has just praised his country for no reason! Or did he?

No, he didn’t. The quote was taken from the live translation of the event in Davos, and the interpreter was apparently a bit baffled by prime minister’s metaphorical language, which led to confusion.

Putin’s actual words were: “You know, the trick is we’re not someone in need of help. We’re not invalids. Help is something that you should give to poor people, to people with limited capacities, to pensioners, to developing countries…”

He added: “As for Russia and our partners in Europe, in the United States, in some Asian countries, there should be a partnership of equals.”

Hardly anyone will take a request for partnership as an insult, unless he feels superior in the first place. Or is it that stereotypes are getting in the way and making some people jump to conclusions?