LOST IN TRANSLATION
One of the funniest forms of comedy is provided by the things that sometimes go wrong when people seek to communicate to others in a language that is not their own. Although this section is mainly filled with the gaffes of well-meaning foreigners attempting to communicate with native English-speakers (most of whom were tourists), we English-speakers are also masters of comedy when it comes to using, and blundering in, the languages of others. While I was in Mexico, for example, I witnessed two hilarious incidents of Americans slipping on the banana peel of Spanish. In one case, a "gringo" who wanted to tell someone that he was 18 years old, ended up saying (thanks to the omission of a crucial tilde), "I have 18 anuses." In another case, a tourist who wanted to order a "charcoal-broiled steak" ended up ordering "beefsteak a la cuckold." Simply speaking, languages are a wonderful terrain for slapstick comedy, and while we should always respect the effort that it takes to learn them well, why not laugh along the way?
The following examples were collected mainly from signs and posters encountered by English-speaking travelers throughout the world, and they have been compiled and transmitted in various formats, possibly beginning with humor books, before finding new life in streams of e-mails sent across the Internet. I believe, as "public documents" of a sort, that they must lie in the public domain, and so, without further ado, I present them to you for the purpose of helping you to conduct a sound check of your own personal laugh track. Each quotation is linked to a particular place and setting, and speaks for itself.
Enjoy! And never forget, that each one of us is no doubt capable of perpetrating parallel linguistic atrocities, and in fact, will likely do so should we ever prove so bold as to try to communicate to others in their native tongue, rather than expect the whole world to speak to us in English!
Sign in a cocktail lounge in Norway:
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.
Sign at a Budapest Zoo:
PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. IF YOU HAVE ANY SUITABLE FOOD, GIVE IT TO THE GUARD ON DUTY.
Sign in a doctorís office in Rome:
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.
Sign in a hotel in Acapulco:
THE MANAGER HAS PERSONALLY PASSED ALL THE WATER SERVED HERE.
From an information booklet explaining how to use a hotel air conditioner in Japan:
COOLES AND HEATES: IF YOU WANT CONDITION OF WARM AIR IN YOUR ROOM, PLEASE CONTROL YOURSELF.
From a brochure in a car rental outlet in Japan:
WHEN PASSENGER OF FOOT HEAVE IN SIGHT, TOOTLE THE HORN. TRUMPET HIM MELODIOUSLY AT FIRST, BUT IF HE STILL OBSTACLES YOUR PASSAGE THEN TOOTLE HIM WITH VIGOUR.
Sign in a menís rest room in Japan:
TO STOP LEAK TURN COCK TO THE RIGHT.
Sign in a Nairobi restaurant:
CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.
Sign on the property of a private school:
NO TRESPASSING WITHOUT PERMISSION.
Sign on a highway along a river:
TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.
A poster at Kencom:
ARE YOU AN ADULT THAT CANNOT READ? IF SO, WE CAN HELP.
Sign over a city restaurant:
OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, AND WEEKENDS TOO.
Sign on a medical building:
MENTAL HEALTH PREVENTION CENTRE.
Sign on an automatic restroom hand dryer:
DO NOT ACTIVATE WITH WET HANDS.
Sign in a maternity ward:
NO CHILDREN ALLOWED.
Sign in a cemetery:
PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES.
Sign in a public bath in Japan:
FOREIGN GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO PULL COCK IN TUB.
An announcement of a hotelís rules and regulations in Japan:
GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIOURS IN BED.
Words from the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR.
Sign in a Tokyo bar:
SPECIAL COCKTAILS FOR THE LADIES WITH NUTS.
Sign posted in a temple in Thailand:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER A WOMAN EVEN A FOREIGNER IF DRESSED AS A MAN.
A notice in a hotel room in Thailand:
PLEASE DO NOT BRING SOLICITORS INTO YOUR ROOM.
Words from an Italian hotel brochure:
THIS HOTEL IS RENOWNED FOR ITS PEACE AND SOLITUDE. IN FACT, CROWDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD FLOCK HERE TO ENJOY ITS SOLITUDE.
Sign in a hotel lobby in Bucharest:
DURING THAT TIME WE REGRET THAT YOU WILL BE UNBEARABLE.
Sign by a hotel elevator in Paris:
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR VALUES AT THE FRONT DESK.
Sign in a hotel in Yugoslavia:
THE FLATTENING OF UNDERWEAR WITH PLEASURE IS THE JOB OF THE CHAMBERMAID.
Sign in a hotel in Japan:
YOU ARE INVITED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHAMBERMAID.
Sign from the lobby of a hotel in Moscow, located across from a cemetery:
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT THE CEMETERY WHERE FAMOUS RUSSIAN AND SOVIET COMPOSERS, ARTISTS, AND WRITERS ARE BURIED DAILY EXCEPT THURSDAY.
Sign in a supermarket in Hong Kong:
FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE, WE RECOMMEND COURTEOUS, EFFICIENT SELF-SERVICE.
Sign in the USSR:
THERE WILL BE A MOSCOW EXHIBITION OF ARTS BY 15,000 SOVIET REPUBLIC PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS. THESE WERE EXECUTED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS.
Words from a newspaper from a country in East Africa:
A NEW SWIMMING POOL IS RAPIDLY TAKING SHAPE SINCE THE CONTRACTORS HAVE THROWN IN THE BULK OF THEIR WORKERS.
A sign in a hotel in Vienna:
IN CASE OF FIRE, DO YOUR UTMOST TO ALARM THE HOTEL PORTER.
A sign spotted in Germanyís Black Forest:
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THIS PURPOSE.
A sign in a hotel in Zurich:
BECAUSE OF THE IMPROPRIETY OF ENTERTAINING GUESTS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX IN THE BEDROOM, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE LOBBY BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE.
An ad placed by a dentist in Hong Kong:
TEETH EXTRACTED BY THE LATEST METHODISTS.
A sign in a Laundromat in Rome:
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME.
An ad for donkey rides in Thailand:
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ON YOUR OWN ASS?
A guarantee for a "clockwork toy" made in Hong Kong:
GUARANTEED TO WORK THROUGHOUT ITS USEFUL LIFE.
Sign from an airline ticket office in Copenhagen:
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
A sign on the door of a Moscow hotel room:
IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST VISIT TO THE USSR, YOU ARE WELCOME TO IT.
Actually, upon closer examination, the foreign communicators didnít really do such a bad job of speaking English after all; they mostly ended up generating hilarious double meanings due to unfamiliarity with the full range of the possibilities of our language; and occasionally utilized obsolete terms, such as "cock" for "faucet" or "valve." But that doesnít make it not funny!
A funny error I encountered in a tea bag here in the States: "Please enjoy our homely tea."
And a funny mistake perpetrated by an early version of a translating machine, occurred when the new device translated the English expression "Out of sight, out of mind" as "Blind, Insane." Although translating software has improved, it still sometimes comes up with some pretty bad translations. Looks like we should keep on trying to communicate with each other, no matter how much comedic material we inadvertently produce along the way!
Weapons of Depth Contents