Too funny for public transport?

So goes the blurb for “Lost in Translation“, a 2006 book by ‘Charlie Croker’ (aka Mark Mason) about “misadventures in English abroad” which I’ve just finished reading. It demonstrates some of the very best and worst instances of ‘grammar-gargling’ from around the world. Sometimes you can guess what is meant (especially if you speak the language in question), but other times you’re left scratching your head. As the author cautions us however, we should never forget that although other nations’ mistakes with English are amusing to us, their English is generally much better than our Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic etc (and the book includes some examples from English speaking nations).

I thought I’d share with you some of the examples I found most amusing, but don’t worry there’s still plenty more in the book (and in its sequel Still Lost in Translation)!

British Council ad, reportedly a sign from a hotel restaurant in Acapulco

Italy: This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.

Thailand (offering donkey rides): Would you like to ride on your own ass?

In a hotel in Tel Aviv: If you wish breakfast, lift the telephone and our waitress will arrive. This will be enough to bring up your food.

French hotel restaurant: Wondering what to wear? A sports jacket may be worn to dinner, but no trousers.

Madrid hotel restaurant: Our wine list leaves you nothing to hope for.

Finnish hotel fire procedure: If you cannot reach a fire exit, close the door and expose yourself at the window.

Nairobi restaurant: Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.

Laon, France, English translation of a sign in French reading “En cas de feu – restez calme”: In case of fire do not lose your temper.

Restaurant menu: Sole Bonne Femme (Fish Landlady style).

French menu: Nut of Holy Jacques jumped, guinea fowl stinks to it and its farce with cheese-topped dish, almost cheese-dish of mould in spice on bed of spinach.

Roguefart – on a Japanese restaurant French cheese menu

China, describing a pancake dish: Waiter will roll in front of you.

Chelsea, London: Plat du jour, changed each day.

Japanese washing machine instructions: Push button. Foam coming plenty. Big noise. Finish.

Sign at a Philippines ferry terminal: Adults: 1 USD. Child: 50 cents. Cadavers: subject to negotiation.

A Japanese copy of a Meatloaf album includes the following tracks: ‘Sixty Six Per Cent Is All Right’ (for ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’) and ‘You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouse’.

In an Israeli butcher’s: I slaughter myself twice daily.

Shop in Amman: Visit our bargain basement – one flight up and in the same shop they sell: Pork Handbags.

Swedish furrier: Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.

At a Hong Kong costume shop: This merchandise is to be used for turning a trick on Halloween.

On Japanese toothpaste: Gives you strong mouth and refreshing wind!

On a Japanese tea bag: Do not wet with water.

Malaysian road sign

Resort at Iguaco Falls: We offer you peace and seclusion. The paths to our resort are only passable by asses. Therefore, you will certainly feel at home here.

Chinese temple: Please take one step forward and crap twice.

Swimming pool sign, resort, Philippines: Drowning absolutely prohibited.

Sewage treatment plant, as marked on a Tokyo map: Dirty Water Punishment Place.

Newly appointed Danish minister: I am in the beginning of my period.

On a French pest-control firm’s website: Small animals nibble you the life. They give you the cockroach?

In an East Africa newspaper: A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.

Slogan on mugs produced by Warwickshire County Cricket Club, who wanted to bill their star bowler ‘King of Spin’: Ashley Giles – King of Spain.

cover, Lost in Translation

The book certainly brought a smile to my face and just goes to prove – you always need a translator!

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Glossary of some useful words in Réunion Island

Here’s a (non-exhaustive!) list of some words and terms that will be helpful to you if you visit Réunion Island. Some are Reunion Creole words, others are French words with a different meaning from that in mainland France, and some are straightforward French but with a particularly local meaning.  Many of the Creole words in this list are widely used in Reunion even in spoken French. This little glossary has no intention of replacing a dictionary or phrase-book however  – there are other resources for that.
Note that Reunion Creole has no fixed spelling, so written variations are possible. (All further references to Creole here suppose Reunion Creole).

  • achard – picked vegetable salad, rather like a spicy coleslaw but without the mayonnaise.
  • alizétrade winds from the south-east.
  • baba figue/baba-fig – blossom of the banana tree, which is chopped with boucané (smoked pork) and made into a carri.
  • babouk – large brown huntsman spider that is found in and around houses.
  • bibasse/bibas – Loquat or Japanese medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) – a small yellow fruit which mainly grows in the highlands.
  • bichique/bishik – the fry of red-tailed goby (Sicyopterus lagocephalus) or Cotylopus acutipinnis which, at certain times of the year, are captured at river mouths as they swim upstream. They are caught using traditional techniques such as trap nets known as vouves.  The bichique are then sold for about €45/kg to be made into a carri.
  • bonbon piment – small savoury treats made from finely ground lentils or lima beans mixed with spices (piment).

Bonbons piment

  • boug – man.
  • Bourbon – former name for Réunion Island 1649-1793 and 1810-1848; sometimes still used by companies as part of their trade name.
  • brède – the leafy greens of various vegetables (there are ≈30 varieties) that are cooked and served with rice and carri, or made into a broth.
  • cabri – an old French word for a kid; in Réunion the term covers all kinds of goats.
  • cafre/kaf – a black Creole (feminine: cafrine/kafrine).
  • cagnard – in the South of France this means a place where the sun beats down; in Réunion it means a thug or a delinquent.
  • camaron – large freshwater shrimps, eaten in a carri.
  • canal bichique – literally this is a channel of stones that’s been built to help fish bichique, but it now has a second meaning. When the Route du Littoral (coast road between St Denis and La Possession) has to be reduced to three lanes (instead of the normal four) after heavy rain, the resulting narrow roadway is unofficially known as the  canal bichique.
  • carri/cari – general name for Réunion’s national dish, normally consisting of  meat or fish cooked with onions, garlic, turmeric (safran), thyme, salt, pepper and sometimes tomatoes. Normally served with white rice, rougail, lentils and occasionally brèdes.
  • case/kaz – house.
  • Cilaos – this is one of Réunion’s cirques, but it has also given its name to a good brand of sparkling water, bottled in the cirque. If you want to order locally bottled still water ask for ‘Australine’ or ‘Edena’.
  • chouchou – a green, pear-shaped vegetable, known variously as christophine, chayote or choko in other parts of the world. Its green leaves can be used as brèdes.
  • combava – a small, round, dark green citrus fruit with a rough, bumpy skin, known as kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) in English. Its rind is used in Reunionese cuisine and has a very distinctive taste.
A batch of kaffir limes (Citrus × hystrix).

Kaffir limes (Photo: Wikipedia)

  • cyclone – ‘hurricanes’, ‘typhoons’ and ‘cyclones’ are all different words for the same thing. As Réunion is in the southern hemisphere the official cyclone season runs from November 15th-April 15th, although out-of-season cyclones are occasionally possible. Reunion has a Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre, one of only six in the world, which keeps a close eye on things. Cyclone names are given by Mauritius or Madagascar.
  • dalon – friend.
  • dodo – unofficial, but widely-used name for a popular locally-brewed beer.
  • faham – an orchid (jumellea fragans), increasingly rare and endemic to the Mascarene islands, that is used in rhum arrangé and some medicinal herbal teas (tisanes).
  • fanjan – literally a tree fern, but more often used to refer to the mass of entangled tree fern roots that can be cut and used as a natural plant pot.

Fanjan

  • fénoir – darkness, night. When the Pope came to Réunion in 1989 he said “sort dann fénoir” (‘Don’t stay in the darkness’).
  • fet kaf – abolition of slavery which is celebrated every year by a public holiday on December 20th (20 desamb).
  • filaocasuarina tree.
  • GabierGuichet Automatique de Banque = ATM.
  • gato – a sweet, confectionery. In Creole gato doesn’t have the wider French meaning of ‘cake’.
  • goyavier – strawberry guava (Psidium cattleyanum), much-appreciated small red fruit that are ripe in May-July, and which grow in the highlands up to 1200m altitude.

Goyavier

  • grains – the beans or lentils in sauce that traditionally accompany a carri.
  • gramoun – old person.
  • Grande IleMadagascar, the ‘Big Island’.
  • guetali – a small gazebo-like structure typical of 19th century Creole architecture which could be found at the corner of the garden walls of large houses. From it the women of the household could watch people passing in the street without being noticed by them. Guetali are covered by a roof, and were often decorated with lambrequin. The name comes from “guette a li“, which means “watch him” in Creole.

Guetali, Hellbourg, Salazie cirque

  • (les) hauts – the highlands of Réunion; places that are not on the coast.
  • Ile soeurMauritius (together with Rodrigues the three islands form the Mascarene Islands).
  • îlet– a hamlet, particularly in one of the three cirques. (The final ‘T’ is pronounced).
  • kabar – a more or less impromptu concert, with local music, dancing, singing and sometimes moringue.
  • la-di-la-fé – gossip; also the name given to the machine that moves the concrete barriers on the Route du Littoral to make it into a canal bichique.
  • lambrequin/lanbrokin – useful and ornamental patterned window and door borders made out of metal or wood. Design themes often reflect plant life. Originally a feature of naval architecture, they were used in Reunion to deflect and channel rain water at a time when gutters did not yet exist. Known in Creole as dantèl-lakaz – literally ‘house lace’ (see pictures here).

Lambrequin

  • letchis & mangues – lychees and mangoes are a national obsession from November to January when they are ripe. Prices start high but quickly come down as more and more fruit becomes available.
  • lontan – in the past.
  • macatia – a small slightly sweet bun, typical of Réunion.
  • malbar – a Creole of Tamil origin.
  • maloya – a traditional musical genre of Reunion, which has its origins in slaves’ music. Songs are sometimes politically oriented, and themes are often slavery and poverty. The most well-known maloya artists are Danyel Waro, Ziskakan, Baster or Firmin Viry. In 2009 Maloya was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO for France
  • marmaille/marmay – children.
  • marron – a slave who escaped from their owner. By extension has come to refer to things that have gone wild or are illegal or ‘underground’.
  • massalé – an Indian spice mix commonly used in cooking (chili, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds).
  • métropolemainland France; the part of France in Europe. Don’t forget that in Réunion you are already in France!
  • moringue – a local, highly codified combat sport similar to Capoeira.
  • paille en queue/payankë – white-tailed tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus), a seabird easily identified by its long tail feathers.
  • papang – Reunion Harrier (Circus maillardi) is the last and only bird of prey on Réunion.
  • peï – anything that is local.
  • pistash – peanuts (not pistachios!).
  • radier – a masonry structure in a road, built over the low point of a river, enabling the waterway to be crossed except during a period of heavy rain. (Never ever cross a radier when there’s been heavy rain!).
  • rhum arrangé – literally means ‘arranged rum’ but is better translated by ‘macerated flavoured rum’.  One or several ingredients such as vanilla, bananas, cinnamon, geranium, lychees, ginger or faham are added to a bottle of white rum and left to macerate for several weeks or months (the actual length of time depends on the ingredient(s)). It’s mostly drunk as an after-dinner drink.

Shelf of ‘rhum arrangé’

  • rougail – two meanings: (1) a cooked, main dish similar to a carri, generally with sausages, smoked pork (boucané) or dried, salted codfish (morue); (2) a spicy condiment similar to a chutney which accompanies every main meal in Réunion, composed of diced or crushed raw ingredients: ginger, chilli peppers, salt, onions and a main ingredient – most often tomato, but can be lemon or green mango.
  • safran – not to be confused with saffron, this is the local name for turmeric, which is mainly grown at La Plaine des Grègues in the south of Réunion.
  • samousa – triangular-shaped and similar to Indian samosas, local samousa are generally small with a spicy meat, fish or vegetable filling.
  • séga  – a traditional music genre from the Mascarene islands, with an associated dance form. It originated among slave populations, and is danced without the feet ever leaving the ground.
  • St Expedit – a Roman soldier saint who is particularly venerated on Réunion. Red Saint Expeditus shrines are often found by roadsides.

St Expedit shrine, Entre-Deux

  • tang – tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus), a mammal which looks rather like a hedgehog, with a long pointed snout. It can be hunted from February to April, and can be eaten in a carri.
  • ti’jaque – jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), a very large green fruit with an uneven skin. In Reunion it is finely chopped and cooked with smoked bacon to make the dish ti’jaque boucané.
  • vacoas – the pandanus or screwpine tree, which can be found on the coast (Pandanus utilis) or in the highlands (Pandanus montanus). It produces an edible fruit called a pinpin, and its leaves can be woven to make objects such as a bertèl, a flat bag worn on the back.
Pandanus montanus fruit (Réunion island)

Vacoa (Pandanus montanus) (Wikipedia)

  • varang – house verandah, typical of Creole architecture.
  • yab – a white Creole from the highlands.
  • zamal – local cannabis.
  • zarab – Muslim Creole of Indian origin (Gujarati region).
  • zoreil – person not from Réunion Island, in particular a European or someone from mainland France.
  • zourite – octopus, often eaten on Réunion in a civet (stew).

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Books about Reunion and worldwide literature

A recent exchange with Ann Morgan, who’s currently reading her way round the world, got me thinking about Reunion Island books in English. As far as I’m aware, with the exception of ‘Bourbon Island 1730’, the list I came up with contains only books that I have been written directly in English and not translated. In fact as far as I know there are no English translations of books by well-known Reunionese authors like Daniel Vaxelaire or Axel Gauvin, although the latter’s books have been translated into German.

Books about Reunion I haven’t read myself (but which are all on my Bookmooch wish list!):

  • Reunion: An Island in Search of an Identity by Laurent Medea
  • Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Metissage by Françoise Verges
  • Island Born Of Fire: Volcano Piton de la Fournaise by Dr Robert B. Trombley
Cover of

Bourbon Island 1730

Books I’ve read myself:

I’ve written reviews of all of the books above.

Also: Bonnes Vacances!: A Crazy Family Adventure in the French Territories by Rosie Millard which is about a 4-month tour of the DOM-TOMs Rosie made with her husband and four young children to film a documentary series for the Travel Channel (“Croissants in the Jungle”). Its final chapter covers Réunion (briefly); see my review here.

In the introduction I mentioned Ann Morgan who is currently reading her way around as many of the globe’s 196 independent countries as she can, sampling one book from every nation. (She’s also recently included a Rest of The World wildcard section, hence our exchange about Reunion Island). However as she asked herself: what counts as a story? Is it by a person born in that place? Is it written in the country? Can it be about another nation state? While in some respects she’s still answering that question she had to lay down her terms and so decided to limit herself to all narratives that could be read to full effect by one reader on their own e.g. memoirs, novels, short stories, novellas, biographies, narrative poems and reportage, but not non-narrative poetry and plays.

It got me wondering about which countries I’d already read literature from, and after a quick tour of my bookshelves (and my memory!) this is the (non-exhaustive) list I came up with, in English and French:

Cover of

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

  • Canada – Where White Horses Gallop – Beatrice McNeil [Author/Setting]
  • Central African Republic – Princesse aux Pieds Nu – Evelyne Durieux [Author/Setting]
  • Burma – The Piano Tuner – Daniel Mason [Setting; Author is British]
  • China (Yunnan) – Leaving Mother Lake: A Childhood at the Edge of the WorldYang Erche Namu [Author/Setting]
  • Czech Republic – L’Insoutenable légèreté de l’être [The Unbearable Lightness of Being] – Milan Kundera [Author/Setting]
  • Cuba – Our Man In Havana – Graham Greene [Setting; Author was British]
  • Democratic Republic of Congo – The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver [Setting; Author is American]
  • Denmark (& Greenland) – Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Høeg [Author/Setting]
  • Egypt – Woman at Point Zero – Nawal El Saadawi (translated by Sherif Hetata) [Author/Setting]
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti) – Breadfruit: A Novel – Célestine Hitiura Vaite [Author/Setting] [August 2014 – I read the French translation L’Arbre à Pain by Henri Theureau]
  • Germany – The Book Thief – Markus Zusak [Setting; Author is Australian]
  • Haiti – Island Beneath the Sea – Isabel Allende (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) [Setting; Author is Chilean American]
Cover of

“Island Beneath the Sea”

Samarcande

Notes:

  • I’ve arbitrarily excluded the UK, France and the USA as I’ve read so many books from these countries I’d have trouble choosing just one!
  • If I’ve read several books from a country I’ve generally just listed my favourite.
  • I’ve also taken liberties by listing some non-independent regions (e.g. Rodrigues, Hawaii, Tibet, Tromelin).
  • I excluded some books (such as Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, or William Boyd’s African novels) that take place in unidentified countries.
  • I also excluded books (such as Elie Wiesel’s Night) whose action takes place in several countries.
  • If I’ve read a book in French but an English translation exists I’ve added the English title in brackets [].
  • I’ve included books not written by natives of the country in question.

My conclusions:

  • I have vast swathes of the planet where I haven’t read any literature from, for example South America or the Pacific! Places like South East Asia or Central Asia are patchy too. Although I list Paul Coelho and Isabel Allende the books of theirs that I read were not set in their native countries. And despite living and travelling for three years in Asia I’ve mainly read Korean books (North and South) but very little from the many other countries we travelled to in the region. I need to broaden my horizons even more.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading books from other countries? Do you have any books to recommend? Is literature from your native (or adopted) country easy to find in English?

P.S. Here’s the link to Ann Morgan’s blog: A Year Of Reading The World. Other reading around the world blogs I’ve come across are: Reading the WorldThe Rushlight ListWorld Lit Up and Around the World in 180 books (specialised in children’s literature).

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Translation troubles

I got back a few days ago from a month-long trip to (mainland) France, the UK and Iceland (I’ll be blogging about the Icelandic language soon), and I wanted to share some surprising or humorous translation errors I came across while travelling.

First of all, when we dropped our hire car off at Edinburgh airport on our way to Iceland we came across this surprising sign:

The ‘keys’ have of course been translated into the other languages using the word for computer keys and not car keys. Thankfully the context and the illustration help you understand what is meant.

Also in Edinburgh we came across the following sign when leaving a car-park:

I don’t speak German, Italian or Spanish so can’t vouch for the other languages, but in French a new word, renez, has been created.

While we were in the UK the Korean flag scandal happened, and two days later a chain of British opticians capitalised on it with the following newspaper advertisement:

Although I lived for three years in South Korea my Korean isn’t fluent enough to be sure when there’s a mistake, however a Korean friend confirmed that while the Korean itself is correct, ‘Specsavers’ should be at the beginning and not the end of the sentence. Presumably the advertisers wanted the Korean to look like the equivalent English sentence (an advertising slogan which is well-known in the UK): “They should have gone to Specsavers”.

The day after my return to Reunion Island I went to a local restaurant with a friend who was passing through. This particular restaurant is one of the few in Saint Denis that’s taken the trouble to translate its menu into English, however they insist on using internet translation and unfortunately that gives the following results:

Drop in for dinner?

For those that don’t speak French the Crotin [sic] de Chèvre Chaud should be ‘Warm Goat’s Cheese’ in English and not ‘dung’! (This photo was featured in The Telegraph’s ‘Sign Language’ ‘Best of January 2014’ photo gallery)

Another example from the same menu:

Puts a ro-dent in your appetite?

Here Souris [d’agneau] (knuckle of lamb) has been translated literally as ‘mouse’. (This photo was also featured in The Telegraph’s ‘Sign Language’ photo gallery). Things have improved however, as a few years ago filet was translated thoughout as ‘net’ instead of ‘fillet’, and cabot de fond (a type of fish) was translated as ‘dog bottom’!

Have you seen any translations that have made you laugh out loud recently?

P.S. By the way, the level of English in Iceland was amazingly good – I virtually never saw (or even heard) any mistakes in English. 

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